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Copying information is something I do every day, at work and at play. For example: whenever I use the internet for anything, whenever I print out a mathematics paper, whenever I stream audio wirelessly to 802.11 speakers, and whenever I cover someone else's song, I am copying.
As a case study: In Canada, I can copy my entire CD collection to more modern formats, to guard against the CDs aging and the format becoming obsolete. This is, at the root, because of the copying levy imposed on blank storage media in Canada. I am not sure whether it is legal to do that with DVDs or other DRM'd media, however – and it certainly would be illegal under any legislation resembling the DMCA in the United States.
Canadian lawmakers need to take an honest look at the way modern technology works, and what it has done to the way we share our information. The current idea of copyright – namely that creative works are a form of "intellectual property" – no longer makes sense, and must be radically revised. I would urge that this revision be done in such a way as to foster new creation rather than discourage it!
In particular, we should explicitly decriminalize circumvention of digital rights management. We must also protect the notion of "fair dealing / fair use" and extend it explicitly to creative and transformative work, giving the benefit of the doubt to users as far as possible.
Almost all digital technology includes, at some level, a device for copying information. The more we use modern technology, the more we will copy, and the more the benefits of copying will outweigh the drawbacks.
The guiding principle for the new copyright laws should be to allow as much freedom and as few restrictions as possible; otherwise, some wonderul new technology will arise in five years which is technically illegal under our laws and we'll have to do this all over again.
As above – those which foster freedom of creation. It seems almost tautologous for me to say that...
Works are created based on the work of others. Period. Very little of what we come up with is created in a vacuum. If we artificially inhibit this process with legislation, then we stifle innovation and creativity – at the least by imposing a chilling effect, and at worst by introducing lawsuits into the creative process. (consider sampling in music, or mashups in the video arts – two wonderful and commonplace creative acts which should be encouraged, not criminalized, under our new copyright law)
It is particularly important to note that it is not financially viable for small artists to enforce copyright – the arts, at the entry level, are so unprofitable that only the most elite can afford lawyers. More generally, restrictive copyright laws protect larger, established companies, not young and innovative people. For example, because of the internet, it is no longer necessary for a young artist to affiliate with a major company in order to become widely known – so a liberalization of copyright law would help far more Canadians than it would hurt.
Again, as above – those which foster freedom of creation. This has always been the way of the free market economy.
More to the point, certainly not those which foster DCMA-style enforcement of digital rights management. For every large, old company who takes advantage of stringent copyright legislation, there will be dozens of small, young companies who will fold, or do their business elsewhere, at the threat of a copyright lawsuit.
And, once again, it is crucial to note that copyright law will inevitably be applied at a scope that none of us can imagine at the moment, as more and more of our technology turns to copying as its basic mechanism.
Right now, there is simply no competing with the United States in the digital economy. A liberalization of copyright law, however, could provide us tremendous competitive advantage as compared with the United States and the DCMA. This way, we can be the kind of country where people with a good idea can have a successful business, without qualification or fear of reprisal. We need to encourage creativity and freedom: my ideal Canada produces text, video, music freely, building upon the work of others in a natural and organic way.
Let me put it another way. We have created a giant machine (the internet) whose only purpose is to copy things, at a very fundamental level. This machine is the global digital economy... so the more our laws allow freedom to copy, the better we will do.
On a seperate point: as a research mathematician, I am deeply concerned about the interactions between DRM legislation and mathematical research, especially in cryptography. If we want our world to be secure, we must constantly be trying to find weaknesses in our cryptographic systems. Unfortunately, this is precisely the sort of activity that is now criminal under the "anti-circumvention" policies of the DCMA!
Cryptography has far more important applications than crippling our DVD players (secure e-commerce, for example). It is extremely important that we not criminalize such an important area of research in an overzealous attempt to protect digital rights management.