MONTREAL — Planning to make an extra copy of your Disney DVD that’s constantly under threat of being scratched or cracked by your toddler?
One day, you could be breaking the law.
The federal government introduced new copyright legislation Wednesday that would allow companies to seek damages between $100 and $5,000 from people who break “digital locks” to copy material like video games, films and music.
The wide-ranging bill touches on virtually every area of the digital superhighway, affecting consumers’ relationship with DVDs, CDs, MP3 players and even their Internet service providers.
It would be the first overhaul of the act protecting copyrighted property since 1997, a time when the use of digital material and the Internet was taking off in Canada.
The bill would create a new legal category for personal users, separate from the previous law that lumped people and businesses together and set the same $1 million maximum penalty.
Penalties for those who make copies for commercial purposes — from $500 to $20,000 for each infringed item — would not change under the proposed legislation.
A key component of the new law would make it illegal to pick a digital lock and copy legally acquired material from, say, software or a music CD, to a computer.
The Conservative government says the new rules aim to bring Canada in line with international standards while also appeasing the entertainment industry.
The Tories tabled the legislation in Parliament on Wednesday and announced its contents at a news conference in Montreal.
Heritage Minister James Moore said businesses like video-game developers, which employ more than 15,000 people in Canada, depend on these locks for protection.
“Without this choice that they choose to engage in, in order to protect their business model, many of these jobs will be at stake,” Moore told the news conference, held at the offices of video-game maker Electronic Arts.
“Canadian companies will benefit.
“It is essential to protect these jobs and this creativity . . . to make sure Canada remains a centre of creativity.”
The legislation follows the ill-fated Bill C-61, which the Tories tabled two years ago.
Bill C-61, tripped up by consumer outcry, also would have made it illegal to break digital copyright locks.
Industry Minister Tony Clement told The Canadian Press last week that the new legislation — which must still pass through the minority Parliament — is “not chiselled in stone.”
He said there could be some “positive amendments” and is counting on co-operation from one or more of the opposition parties.
Clement conceded it would be difficult to please everyone. On Wednesday, he called the new legislation a long time coming.
“Canada is late to the table, quite frankly,” he said.
“We’ve been trying as a Parliament to get copyright legislation through since ’Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’ was in the Top 10.”
He said that when compared with the 88 countries that have signed or ratified the World Intellectual Property Organization treaties — which Canada has signed but not ratified — the new bill offers a standard approach to digital locks.
A few common practices involving copyrighted material would remain legal under the bill — as long as there are no digital locks:
— Recording TV shows or podcasts. Using such devices as PVRs fell under a grey area in the past law. Consumers would now officially be allowed to record material for later use.
— Copying a legally acquired song from a CD or hard drive to an MP3 player.
— Creating a mash-up. People would be allowed to take existing copyrighted material, edit it, and create new material. Think of Youtube videos that splice together scenes from different movies. However, the proposed law sets out several important exceptions, including that mash-ups be done for non-commercial purposes and not harm the reputation of the original artist.
— Unlocking cellphones to change providers. Though the bill is extremely tough on breaking digital locks, the one notable exception is cellphones. Users would be able to unlock their cellphones as long they respect their existing contract.
“We see this as a real balance between the legitimate interests of the consumer and the legitimate interests of the creator,” Clement said.
“We want creators to feel welcome in Canada.”
University of Ottawa Internet law expert Michael Geist welcomes sections of the new legislation that legitimize consumer rights, such as allowing Canadians to back up their DVDs and software.
But he says the industry would have too much power when it comes to digital locks.
“The fundamental flaw, I think some would see as the fatal flaw in this legislation, is that its starting principle is one that wherever there is a digital lock, all of those rights cease to exist,” Geist said Wednesday in Montreal.
“It feels like the government’s putting up a big sign encouraging the use of digital locks.
“Unfortunately, they giveth and taketh away at the same time.”
Geist says when it comes to digital locks, wording in the legislation is almost identical to that of the United States.
“I know there was big pressure from the United States and it’s pretty clear they’ve caved to that pressure,” he said.
“I think it’s largely to satisfy the trade pressure we face from the United States, probably more than anyone else.”
He says some compromises, such as allowing Canadians to crack locks to copy material for personal use, are necessary.
The director of an organization representing Canadian video-game developers was pleased with the bill, saying the industry needs strong legal protection for digital locks.
“Then, let the market decide whether consumers want to buy them or not,” said Danielle Parr of the Entertainment Software Association of Canada.
“We have the third-largest video-game industry in the world, it’s something we can be very proud of and there’s huge growth potential, so it’s something that’s important to protect.”
“We think this bill is good for the video-game industry, it’s good for the digital economy in Canada.”
The new bill would also require Internet service providers to, when informed by a copyright owner that one of their customers is illegally downloading material, forward that notice to their customer.
The Internet provider would also need to keep a record of that correspondence for use in any eventual court proceeding.
Internet providers that fail to comply could face civil damages.
It would also be illegal to have more than one backup copy of a song or a movie. Users could, for instance, back up a copy of a legally acquired song but could not dump a series of songs onto a USB key and share them with a friend.