An FAQ on TPMs, Copyright and Bill C-32

This blog post is based on a transcription of the talk I gave last week at the Insight Conference on Rights and Copyright: Bringing Canada into the 21st Century. * I was on a panel with Michael Geist in which we both presented on the topic of “Bill C-32: Legal Protection for TPMs”. The slides I used with my presentation have already been posted here. For convenience they are also at the end of my remarks.


Welcome. I hope everyone is having a good day so far. Michael Geist and I are going to talk about the legal protection of technological protection measures (TPMs).

I am going to explain how the TPM provisions in Bill C-32 work and highlight some of the areas where there has been confusion in interpreting them. I will also address some of the proposals being made for amending C-32 as it relates to TPMs. In particular, I will provide my views on the merits of Michael’s two main proposals for amending the Bill’s TPM provisions.

Michael says the Bill should only prohibit circumventing TPMs when the purpose is for infringement. He also says a person should be able to hack a TPM to make private copies and that rights holders should not be compensated for such copying such as through a private copying levy. I do not agree with his proposals and will tell you why.

It is interesting that I am speaking before Michael today. I will be anticipating some of the things he might say based on his blogs and our recent appearance before the legislative committee reviewing Bill C-32 on December 1, 2010. If I get Michael’s positions wrong, I am sure he will tell us.

Frequently asked questions about legal protection for TPMs

The topics I will canvass are set out in my slides in more detail. They are organized by a series of questions that people who are involved in the debate about TPMs need to consider. They are:

  • Whether Bill C-32 properly implements the WIPO Treaties consistent with the practices of our trading partners.
  • Whether the Bill permits copying for fair dealing, educational, and other purposes.
  • Whether the circumvention exceptions in the Bill are flexible enough to deal with unforeseen or unintended consequences.
  • Whether Canada can properly implement the WIPO Treaties by limiting the prohibition on circumvention to an infringing purpose.
  • Whether other jurisdictions limit protection of TPMs to circumvention for an infringing purpose.
  • Whether circumvention of TPMs for the purposes of format shifting, time shifting, and making back-up copies for private purposes (private copying) ought to be permitted. Related to this question is the notion of “user rights”; what that term means; whether “user rights” trump authors’ rights; and whether “user rights” should trump legal protection for TPMs.
  • Given that one of the goals behind the Bill is to follow international standards, whether other jurisdictions permit exceptions for private copying to trump TPMs.
  • Whether an exception for private copying that permits circumvention of TPMs for such purpose would comply with the Berne Three Step Test?
  • Do the WIPO Treaties which Canada is committed to ratifying permit circumventing TPMs for private copying?
  • My last topic is whether Michael’s two proposals for amending the TPM provisions in Bill C-32 have any precedents internationally. Michael points to Bill C-60, New Zealand and Switzerland as precedents. But are they really precedents we can or should follow? They are not and I will tell you why.

Does C-32 properly implement the WIPO Treaties?

Let me begin with the question as to whether Bill C-32 properly implements the WIPO Treaties. If you look at my slides you will see a quote from the WIPO Guide which sets out what the treaties require. WIPO itself says that to implement the treaties a contracting party must put in place several measures. The first are measures that prohibit acts of circumvention including prohibiting acts of access control circumvention. The second are measures that prohibit providing circumvention services and trafficking in circumvention tools.

Bill C-32 meets these requirements. The Bill has a definition of “technological protection measure”. It describes two types of TPMs.  Paragraph (a) defines access control TPMs; paragraph (b) defines copy control TPMs.  There is a definition of “circumvent”.  The actual prohibition against circumvention which is in Section 41.1(1) only apply to access control TPMs within the meaning of paragraph (a). There is no general prohibition against circumventing copy control TPMs. The provisions dealing with trafficking in circumvention tools or offering services to circumvent apply to both access control and copy control measures.

Does C-32 have exceptions that permit circumvention of TPMs and is there a flexible means of adding to them if needed?

The Bill has a number of exceptions, some of which are misunderstood or have been inaccurately described. There are, for example, exceptions for law enforcement, interoperability, encryption research, personal information and network security testing. There are also exceptions that permit trafficking in tools and providing circumvention services to facilitate the exercise of these exceptions.

Michael has said there are no exceptions for the blind. He is wrong. There is one that permits circumvention by or for persons with perceptual disabilities such as the blind. He also says that the exception for the blind does not include an exception that permits providing circumvention tools or services to enable people to circumvent TPMs for the blind. This too is wrong. Section 41.16(2) has an exception for this.

Michael also says there is no exception that permits jail breaking phones to use them on other networks. That is dealt with in radio apparatus exception. He also says there is no ability to jail brake a smartphone for the purpose of application interoperability. That also is wrong. To the extent a person needs to circumvent a TPM to make an application work with a phone’s operating system e.g., Apple’s iPhone OS, that is permissible under the general exception that enables people to circumvent TPMs for interoperability purposes.

If you compare the circumvention prohibitions in Bill C-32 with what exists internationally, you will see that they are less protective of TPMs than in the EU under the Copyright Directive. That directive requires Member States to prohibit the circumvention of access and copy control TPMs. Bill C-32 only prohibits circumvention of access control TPMs. Under C-32 it is permissible to circumvent a copy control TPM for a fair dealing or other purpose including education. Statements made by Michael to the effect that the TPM provisions in C-32 are more strict than in the U.S or that they completely trump fair dealing and education are not, therefore, true.

Michael has also challenged the processes in the Bill to establish new exceptions to address unintended consequences and new technologies. He claims the Bill is inflexible in this respect. However, if you look at the Bill you will see that the government has the power to enact regulations in three categories of situations to deal with unintended consequences and new technologies.

Under  S.41.21(1) there is a power to make regulations in the event TPMs are used to restrict competition in the aftermarket sector. This power was intended to deal with the few cases in the U.S. where entities tried, unsuccessfully, to use TPMs to stop competition in interoperable products such as garage door openers and printer cartridges.

The Governor in Council also has a broad power to make regulations to deal with other situations in Section 41.21(2) having regard to specific open ended criteria set out in the subsection. Subsection (i), takes into account a situation where a TPM could adversely affect the use a person may make of a work. This is very broad factor and would cover regional coding and other potential impediments to the use of a work. Subsection (iii) takes into account a situation where a TPM could adversely affect fair dealings for criticism, review, news reporting, commentary, parody, satire, teaching, scholarship or research. Accordingly, if TPMs hamper fair dealings including a dealing for educational purposes, a regulation could address the problem. Subsection (v) takes into account a situation in which a work is not commercially available in a form that is appropriate for educational uses. Last, the subsection requires taking into account any other relevant factor.

Section 41.21(2)(b) also gives the government the power by regulation to require the owner of a copyright to provide access to people who are entitled to the benefit of an exception, where for some reason the copyright owner is not making it possible to exercise the exception.

As my slides show, these processes provide mechanisms to address unintended consequences and new technologies in a broader and more flexible way than what exists internationally. For example, the U.S. has only one process to expand the scope of the exceptions. It is one that Michael has criticised. The U.S. has a tri-annual review process before the U.S. Copyright Office to exclude classes of works for certain purposes. The Canadian regulation power is broader. It applies at any time and is not subject to the same standard of proof. In the EU under Article 6(4) the EU Copyright Directive, Member States have to take appropriate measures, in the absence of voluntary agreements with rights holders, to make the exercise of certain exceptions possible.

Can a prohibition on circumvention that is limited to an infringing purpose comply with the WIPO Treaties?

I would like now to turn to the question of whether the WIPO Treaties can be implemented by limiting protection to circumvention for the purposes of infringement. I raise this because Michael has said on numerous occasions, most recently before the legislative committee examining Bill C-32, that Canada can implement protection for TPMs in this way and comply with the minimum requirements of the WIPO Treaties.

There has been an exchange of views across the Atlantic between Michael and Dr. Ficsor concerning the minimum requirements of the WIPO Treaties. Last December Dr. Ficsor published several papers in which he disagreed with Michael’s views about the WIPO Treaties. After C-32 was tabled Michael published a paper in a book edited by him, which I am sure he will show you as he did to the legislative committee. In the paper Michael took issue with Dr. Ficsor’s views about the WIPO Treaties. Dr. Ficsor read the paper and wrote a major rebuttal to Michael’s paper which he published on IP Osgoode’s blog. He thoroughly and meticulously examined every argument and conclusion that Michael made and found them wanting.

Dr. Ficsor agrees that there is certain flexibility as to how the treaties can be implemented. But he disagrees with Michael’s opinion that the treaties mean “whatever you want them to mean”.  Dr. Ficsor provides a detailed analysis of what the treaties do require. He shows that the treaties cannot be properly implemented by linking the prohibition against circumvention to an infringing purpose, as Michael contends. I recommend you read Dr. Ficsor’s paper.

Dr. Ficsor knows something about the WIPO Treaties. He was the Assistant Deputy General of WIPO at the time the WIPO Treaties were negotiated. There is probably no one who knows more about the requirements of the WIPO Treaties than he does.

Do other countries link circumvention of TPMs to an infringing purpose?

No, our trading partners do not prohibit circumventing TPMs only if the purpose of the circumvention is for an infringing purpose. There would be no point to such limited protection and it could hardly be argued that such protection provides “adequate legal protection” for TPMs, as the WIPO Treaties require.

Michael points to Bill C-60, New Zealand, and Switzerland as precedents for limiting protection for TPMs to circumvention for the purposes of infringement. He repeated that claim again before the legislative committee. Let us look at these supposed precedents.

At the time Bill C-60 was being considered, there were many people who believed that its TPM provisions would not have complied with the WIPO Treaties. An example, is Glen Bloom who expressed this view in a paper referred to in my slides. Mr. Bloom is the Chair of the IPIC Copyright Technical Committee. In this capacity he recently testified before the legislative committee about Bill C-32. He knows his copyright. Mr. Bloom states in his paper, quoted in my slides, that Bill C-60’s TPM provisions would not have met Canada’s obligations under the WIPO Treaties.

Michael also relies on New Zealand as a precedent. New Zealand permits circumvention of TPMs unless it is for an infringing purpose. Michael says that shows that the treaties can be implemented in this way. But, New Zealand has not ratified the WIPO Treaties and is hardly a country that can evidence what the treaties require.

Michael also refers to Switzerland as a precedent because Switzerland links a prohibition on circumventing TPMs to an infringing purpose. But, Switzerland is a known case of a Contracting Party that simply did not do it right. Dr. Ficsor says, “it does happen time and again that certain Contracting Parties do not fulfil their treaty obligations. Switzerland is such a country.”  Of the 88 countries that have ratified the WCT and the 87 countries that have ratified the WPPT, Michael picks as a model a country that has failed to provide adequate legal protection against the circumvention of TPMs. He does not pick any of Canada’s major trading partners as examples for Canada to follow.

Moreover, although Michael refers to Switzerland as a model, he hasn’t, to my knowledge, pointed out that Switzerland has a private copying levy to compensate rights holders for unauthorized copying. Michael told the legislative committee last week that he does not support a levy to compensate authors for unauthorized copying. So even Switzerland is not a precedent for the overall form of implementation Michael proposes.

Should circumvention of TPMs for private copying be permitted?

I now want to address whether circumvention of TPMs should be permitted for private copying. Bill C-32 has exceptions for format shifting, time shifting and making backup copies. These exceptions only apply where TPMs are not hacked to do these acts.

In my view, the conditions against hacking TPMs in the new private copying exceptions are important. TPMs support new business models that would be undermined if people could hack TPMs to make private copies. The conditions are also important because Bill C-32 permits private copying without any compensation to rights holders. Removing these conditions would undermine legitimate markets for the legal sale of copyright content and further increase uncompensated copying.

Michael says we should drop these conditions. He says we should permit people to hack TPMs to copy for format shifting, time shifting and back-up copying purposes. But, doing so could undermine many current and future service offerings which depend on protecting copy and access control TPMs. These include subscription, rental, and rent to own services.** Examples of these services are music streaming subscription services such as Napster and Spotify; video streaming subscription services like Netflix; ad supported music; internet radio; certain digital downloads services, and digital movies rentals from Blockbuster. My slides depict how these and other models could be detrimentally affected by a legal right to hack a TPM for private copying purposes.

Here are just a couple of examples of the problems:

  • On demand rent or buy models: If you rent, you pay (say) $3.99 and if you buy, you pay (say) $17.99. If a person could circumvent the TPM that protects the rent/buy model, wouldn’t some people just pay the rental fee and make permanent copies without paying for them?
  • A music or movie subscription service that has copy controls that prevents copying: If a person could stream the sound recording or movie and legally circumvent the TPM to make a permanent copy, wouldn’t some people pay a monthly subscription fee and make permanent copies without paying for them?
  • Music downloads like iTunes where you buy a song today for $0.99, its TPM free: A person could subscribe to a monthly subscription service and legally circumvent the copy control TPM that prevents copying to make permanent copies. Wouldn’t some people make permanent copies without paying for them?
  • Software and gaming: A person could obtain a 5 day trial with an option to buy if the person likes the software or game. However, if a person can legally hack the TPM that limits access for the trial period and which prevents other copying, wouldn’t some people hack the TPM and avoid paying the purchase price to obtain permanent copies?

All of these things could be done without infringing copyright under Michael’s proposals.

Michael said to the legislative committee that private copying is a “user right”. He says if a user acquires content the user ought to have the right and does have the right to hack the TPM to make copies for format shifting and other purposes without the consent of the owner of the copyright – and without paying for the copies.

Michael is wrong that people have or should have a reasonable expectation that they can obtain content for free, or on a limited basis for some reduced consideration, hack the protections rights holders place on the content, and make copies or obtain access they had not bargained or paid for. If a person pays a rental fee, the person should not expect a right to obtain a permanent copy without paying for the permanent copy. If a person pays a monthly subscription fee for temporary access to content streams, the person cannot reasonably expect the right to make permanent copies without paying for them.

If C-32 is amended as proposed by Michael, once a person has legal access to a work, the person could legally hack the TPM protecting the work, legally make permanent copies, and effectively avoid paying for what is purchased. This is an unreasonable proposal. No person could reasonably ask for this broad right. It is unjustifiable and unsupportable. It would reduce investment in digital products and new distribution models. It would result in the loss of revenues and jobs in the digital sector. It would also substantially undermine the Government’s stated goal of enabling e-commerce in digital products in Canada.

Michael’s views about “user rights” confuses the rights a person has in the tangible thing her or she buys with the copyright in the thing. When you buy a song, you do not buy the label. When you buy a movie, you do not buy the studio. When you buy a video game or book, you are not buying the publisher. A person acquires a right to use an object he or she buys. But, the person does not acquire any legal right to make copies that have not been expressly or implicitly authorized by the copyright owner.

The metaphor of “user rights” expressed by the Supreme Court in the CCH case makes clear that copyright rights, and exceptions like fair dealing, are of paramount importance in construing the Copyright Act. But, as the Supreme Court made clear in CCH, fair dealing is only an affirmative defence to a claim of copyright infringement. It is not a concept that provides legal rights that can be asserted against copyright owners or be used to trump authors’ legal rights. “User rights” under copyright provide no basis for claiming that a person who rents copyright content such as a movie or game, or who merely subscribes to view it, has a right to hack a TPM in order to make permanent copies without authorization and payment.

A number of European decisions, in examining the legal inter-relationship between private copying and the use of TPMs, have similarly concluded that exceptions for private copying do not trump author’s rights in their works. In particular, in Europe there have been claims brought against copyright owners of content such as music and movies alleging they have a legal duty to remove TPMs to enable individuals to make private copies. These claims have been rejected in the cases referred to in my slides.

Would an exception for circumventing TPMs for private copying comply with the Three Step Test?

I now turn to the question of whether Canada could create an exception for private copying that permits circumvention of TPMs for such purposes and comply with our obligations under the Berne Convention and WTO TRIPS. These agreements, as you know, require that the Three Step Test be applied to copyright exceptions and limitations. The Three Step Test requires that an exception be a certain special case; that it not undermine the market or potential market for a work; and that it not unreasonably prejudice authors or copyright owners.

The interrelationship between private copying and protection for TPMs was considered by the French Supreme Court in the Mulholland case. A key question in the case was whether French copyright law could allow circumvention of a TPM for private copying. The French Supreme Court stated it could not. It held that a law that prevents rights holders from using TPMs on their products in the digital environment would violate the Three Step Test. Central to its decision was the concern that TPM-free products would promote unlicensed copying. That is a precedent of pretty high authority. The Paris Commercial Court in the Henry v. Warner Bros case expressed similar statements about the need for TPMs in the digital environment.

Would an exception for circumventing TPMs for private copying comply with the WIPO Treaties?

Another question is whether the WIPO Treaties can be complied with by permitting circumvention of TPMs for private copying? Dr. Ficsor also deals with this in his paper that is posted on IP Osgoode’s web site. He suggests that an adequate level of protection cannot take the form of allowing circumvention of TPMs so as to permit everyone to make private copies. The WIPO Treaties require an adequate level of protection. But, how can legal protection for TPMs be adequate if a right to circumvent TPMs for private copying would violate the Berne Three Step Test as the Mulholland case suggests?

Are there international precedents for an exception for private copying, that permits circumventing TPMs, where authors receive no compensation for the unauthorized copying?

I will now address the question of international practice and standards. In particular, I want to challenge Michael’s assertions that there are international precedents for what he proposes. I have already addressed whether there are international precedents for limiting the prohibition on circumventing TPMs to an infringing purpose. I now ask whether any of our trading partners that have private coping exceptions permit private copying to trump TPMs as is being proposed by Michael?

In the EU the answer is no. In the EU private copying is permitted only if it is subject to fair compensation. The scope of any private copying exception must be subject to the Berne Three Step Test. Moreover, Member States have no right to permit circumvention of TPMs to enable private copying. Member states may take measures to enable certain private copying where voluntary measures by rights holders are not in place. Importantly, however, even these measures do not apply to works that are available on demand through an online subscription basis. They essentially apply to CDs and other physical media.

As I already mentioned, Michael says we should look to Switzerland and New Zealand as examples. But neither of them are precedents for what is being proposed. New Zealand, to my knowledge, does not even have a broad exception for private copying. Switzerland permits circumvention of TPMs for private copying. It is a country, which as pointed out before, did not properly implement its treaty obligations. But, even putting that aside, Switzerland compensates its authors and other creators for private copying through a levy. So it is no precedent for Canada given the clear direction that the existing private copying levy on audio-recording media will not be expanded to digital audio recorders (DARs) like iPods and other devices.

Michael has not pointed to any other country that has broad rights of private copying such as those in Bill C-32, a right to hack TPMs for this purpose, and which does not provide authors and other rights holders with compensation for such copying. His proposals, essentially, ask Canadians to chart a new course in violation of our convention and treaty obligations in a way that, when properly understood by Canadians, would be viewed as unreasonable and unjustifiable, and which would seriously undermine the rights of authors and other creators and their ability to exploit and to be compensated for their creative endeavours.

Thank you.

* The talk was edited and augmented for this blog.

** I use the word “rent” in the colloquial sense. The format shift exception does not permit making a private copy where the source copy has been borrowed or rented.  It is unclear whether a download that may be viewed for a limited period is a  “rental” in the legal sense.

For convenience my slides are set out below.

For more information about the Copyright Modernization Act or Bill C-11 or copyright reform, see Change and the Copyright Modernization Act.

Insight_Slides_on C-32 and TPMs

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One thought on “An FAQ on TPMs, Copyright and Bill C-32”

  1. Darryl Moore says:

    “it does happen time and again that certain Contracting Parties do not fulfil their treaty obligations. Switzerland is such a country.”

    Interesting that not everybody agrees with this statement. Most notable such party of course is the WIPO itself.

    Obviously whether allowing non-infringing circumvention is compliant or not is a subjective issue on which the WIPO, Switzerland, and various other parties disagree with you.

    The fact that these authoritative parties with differing views exist at all, should be sufficient to legitimately adopt a similar perspective.

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