What? No Crown Copyright?

The copyright front has been quiet recently. There have been rumors for several months now that the minority power government of Stephen Harper will be introducing a copyright reform bill to the Canadian Parliament any week now. Although this particular rumor was rampant near the end of the last session of Parliament as a last minute addition to the session’s agenda, it never happened.

Since then another country has introduced a fairly balanced copyright law. In particular, the state of Israel introduced its first copyright bill. This modern democratic society is only now addressing the copyright debate. While this is a bit surprising to many people, what is even more surprising is the content of the bill and how pro-consumer it is.

Some of the content in the bill that is worth noting:
1) Legally copying software for backup, interoperability, maintenance, and security checks.
2) Schools can now perform copyrighted works such as plays and musicals without having to pay royalties to the creators.
3) Work for hire provisions (e.g. I pay you to produce work for me and thus I own the work)
4) Moral rights are established.
5) Crown copyright is abolished.

While all of these are progressive and consumer friendly, I believe the most important one is point 5. The abolishment of the Crown Copyright.

I have written about the Crown Copyright before and posed the question why should a Government hold a copyright on the documents – laws, ordinances, reports, etc – it produces on behalf of its citizens. Since the work is funded by taxpayers and in a democracy all work produced by a Government is in the interests of the citizens it only stands to reason that that body of work belong to the citizens. Instead, in Canada we retain a draconian approach to state copyright and require any citizen to obtain a license and possibly pay for the rights to use the materials produced on their behalf.

Even worse is the consideration by our Government of enacting laws similar to the US DMCA which would only further reduce the rights every day citizens have with their legally purchased materials. In regards to Crown Copyright, this payment is made in full each year in the form of taxation. No one is arguing that more consumer friendly laws would only allow the illegal replication and distribution of content. Piracy is piracy and should be treated as such, but making criminals out of you or I because we wanted to make a mix CD for the car or make MP3 versions for our portable music player is simply counter productive.

I hope our Parliamentarians realize the opportunity afforded to them and follow the example of Israel with regard to our own copyright laws. To paraphrase the words of Bruce Lehman – who architected the restrictive law known as the DMCA – “this approach is simply not working”. Lets learn from the mistake of the US and reform our laws to benefit Canadians.

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