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Canada moots tough sanctions for DRM flouters

Proposes fines cap for 'mere' infringement

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The Canadian government today unveiled a controversial proposal to update the country's copyright laws.

Bill C-61 seeks to fight piracy over the internet by giving companies even more power over where digital content can be moved.

While it reduces the maximum fines for criminals actually caught violating intellectual property laws — the bill makes it illegal for anyone to break the digital locks (DRM) that restrict how media (even legitimately purchased) can be used.

It's a somewhat confusing solution that government officials behind the bill call a "balanced approach to truly benefit Canadians".

Industry Minister Jim Prentice and Heritage Minister Josée Verner presented the legislation at a news conference today on Parliament Hill.

Canada's government sought to introduce similar copyright reforms in December, 2006, but back-pedalled quickly. Outraged opponents claimed the the government was simply copying the US Millennium Copyright Act and pandering to US lobbyists and record labels.

This time around, ministers delivering the bill stressed the "made-in-Canada" approach again and again in the announcement.

The bill proposes to reduce the liability for an individual from Canada's current maximum fine of $20,000 for each infringement to just $500 per case, even if it involves multiple offenses. (Assuming the offending files are for private use only.) That means, for example, an individual caught downloading 20 songs illegally would still be fined a maximum $500.

But if that person was caught having circumvented any DRM on those files, the current $20,000 maximum damages per infringement would once again apply.

This would effectively mean copying a song purchased from Apple's DRM-protected iTunes store to another device would be illegal.

In addition, any person caught making, selling or distributing technology designed to crack DRM protections are subject to criminal charges.

The bill states that it is not an infringement to record audio or video being broadcast for personal use, unless it was available solely over the internet or circumvents any DRM. Recording television shows that are flagged by broadcasters is also illegal.

"It's a win-win approach because we're ensuring that Canadians can use digital technologies at home with their families, at work, or for educational and research purposes," said Prentice in a statement. "We are also providing new rights and protections for Canadians who create the content and who want to better secure their work online."

According to Canada's The Globe and Mail, the legislation is unlikely to be passed by the minority Conservative party. Parliament is also set to break soon for summer, presumably leaving the bill to die.

A digital copy of Bill C-61 (with no DRM, we hope) is available here. ®

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