What the Copyright Modernization Act Says About Digital Locks

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The Copyright Modernization Act introduces legal protection for digital locks. These locks are sometimes used by copyright owners to prevent their works from being accessed or copied without permission. Examples include passwords, encryption software and access codes.

Key provisions include:

Prohibiting the hacking of digital locks: The Bill makes it illegal to circumvent or bypass technologies, such as password protection, used to prevent unauthorized access to copyrighted material. The manufacture, sale and distribution of devices that are primarily designed to hack digital locks, as well as the offering of services to do so, will also be prohibited and subject to civil remedies and criminal penalties.

Allowing specific exceptions in the public interest: The Bill includes a number of specific instances where hacking digital locks is permitted.

Digital locks can be hacked for the following purposes:

  • law enforcement and national security activities;
  • reverse engineering for software compatibility;
  • security testing of systems;
  • encryption research;
  • personal information protection;
  • temporary recordings made by broadcast undertakings;
  • access for persons with perceptual disabilities; and
  • unlocking a wireless device.

The Government will also retain the ability, through regulatory power, to provide new exceptions to the digital lock prohibition to ensure access where the public interest might be served or where anti-competitive behaviour arises.

Permitting unlocking of mobile devices: Consumers will be able to unlock their wireless devices, such as cell phones, in order to connect to another wireless network — to switch service providers, for example. However, this will not override any contractual or other agreement that may exist between consumers and their service providers.

Targeting those who promote and profit from infringement: The Bill prohibits the sale or import of tools and services that enable hacking. Civil and criminal penalties related to digital locks focus on those who profit from the manufacture and sale of hacking tools and services. However, the Bill exempts from statutory damages those who hack digital locks for non-commercial purposes. Statutory damages are pre-established damages used in civil litigation.

Prohibiting the removal of rights management information (RMI): RMI is the information often included in digital content that identifies the copyright owner and the terms and conditions of its use. The Bill prohibits its removal. RMI, such as digital watermarks, can help copyright owners track and prove illegal activity. It can also help consumers by giving them confidence in the authenticity of a work and certainty as to the conditions for its use.

The Bill recognizes that certain protections, such as restricted content on news websites or locked video games, are important tools for copyright owners to protect their digital works and are often an important part of online and digital business models.

Introducing legal protections for digital locks brings Canada in line with international partners, as it is one of the requirements of the World Intellectual Property Organization Internet treaties.

While the music industry has moved away from digital locks on CDs, they continue to be used in many online music services. Software producers, the video game industry and movie distributors also continue to use digital locks to protect their investments. Canadian jobs depend on their ability to make a return on their investment. Businesses that choose to use digital locks as part of their business models will have the protection of the law.

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