You’re about to become a copyright criminal

Have a look at the Conservatives’ bill. Can you spot every way you could be in trouble?


The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld

If you’re a student, or if you consume a lot of music, movies and TV, or if you do fun stuff on the Internet, there’s a rather good chance the Conservatives’ Copyright Reform Bill will make you a criminal.

How? In plenty of ways. Here are a few:

  • Your professor assigns you a digital course pack. It contains excerpts of copyrighted material, but because you’re using it for education, you get a pass. At least, that is, as long as you delete those files within 30 days of the end of class. If you keep them around to use for reference in your honours thesis, or if a stray copy makes its way onto your phone and you forget to erase it, then you’ve broken the law.
  • You transfer your CD collection to your iPod. Two years later, you get a new iPod, and give the old one to your little sister. If you neglect to destroy your CD collection first, you’ve become a criminal.
  • Just for giggles, you mash up some Thomas the Tank engine video clips with a Biggie Smalls song. You post the mashup to your blog, it goes mini-viral, and you make ten bucks and a few cents from Google AdWords hits. You’re now a commercial copyright infringer.

And that’s just for starters. There are many other harmless things millions of Canadians do in the privacy of their homes that will soon constitute copyright infringement. I’ll be back soon with a few more.

For now, here’s the bill. Have a read, and see if you can add one or two potential criminal scenarios of your own in the comments.

Jesse Brown is the host of’s Search Engine podcast. He is on Twitter @jessebrown


You’re about to become a copyright criminal

  1. Does the government indicate how this is to be enforced?

  2. More unreported crimes! More jails! We’ll keep building and convicting and just imprison our way out of the recession!

  3. Seriously, though – most of us are already criminals. If you’re old enough to have made a mix tape, or burned a mix CD to get all your favorite songs togeher for in-car use, you’re a criminal under existing laws. I’d hoped the new law would get rid of the idiotic portion of the law that keeps people from changing the format, and focus on the content: a purchase in any format gives you a licence for private use regardless of format. This just gets more extreme.

    Go after the pirates, sure; but I really don’t want to have to keep buying my favorite albums over and over just so I can play them on the latest devices.

  4. Can I still make a mixed tape to impress that cute girl in my poli sci 101 class?

    • No. You can make a mix tape, but as soon as you give it to or play it for someone else, you’re a criminal.

      • So my feelings for the cute girl in poli sci 101 will remain hidden.  Sigh!

        • Make it. Give it to her. Maybe she likes bad boy types.

        • Not necessarily, after all, the difference in the new law is that if she accepts the tape it makes *her* a criminal too — so you’ll have something in common.

  5. Here’s a fun one: 
    18. Section 27 of the Act is amended by adding the following after subsection (2):
    (2.3) It is an infringement of copyright for a person to provide, by means of the Internet or another digital network, a service that the person knows or should have known is designed primarily to enable acts of copyright infringement if an actual infringement of copyright occurs by means of the Internet or another digital network as a result of the use of that service.

    Or in other words, if you run any sort of torrent client, even if you never upload or download anything. So long as there is a single infringement of copyright by anyone using that service anywhere, you are now a criminal.

    I suppose now we understand the need for all the new jails.

    • Hmmm, that’s interesting. If I recall correctly, the Opera browser comes with a built-in torrent client. I guess this would make all users of the Opera browser criminals! Switching to Opera!

      • Heh. Been using Opera for years. It also comes with a built in mail-client that I find invaluable in that it can put a single piece of mail into multiple views based on keywords and the like. So, for instance, mail from a particular board member about a specific project I can see when I’m looking into either mail from the board, or mail about the project.

  6. Well Jesse, since you’ve previously admitted to pirating all your TV shows and unreleased movies from BitTorrent, I’m pretty sure you’re going to be a copyright criminal too.
    To tell you the truth, since you’ve already admitted to being a thief of other people’s content, I have to say I really find your grandstanding against this bill on these hypothetical issues a little suspect.

    • Did you seriously just call Jesse a thief? Call me old fashioned, but I think such ignorant accusations warrant a punch to the face. Well then, I suppose it is only fair that I call you an ignorant coward, and a man of weak vision and limited comprehension. At the end of the day, the name calling doesn’t actually amount to anything…

      • I don’t know if it’s true or not, but if Jesse truly has admitted to pirating movies and TV shows then didn’t Jesse admit to being a thief before Doug called him one?  It’s still rude of Doug I suppose, but somewhat less objectionable in that context.

        • To Sam – yes, Jesse is quite proud of the fact he’s a pirate and a thief. He proudly stated this in a Toronto Life article last year and recently in a podcast with Moore he admitted that he pirated on a regular basis and will continue to after this bill passes.
          So, forgive me if I find the situations he comes up to object to this bill to be a bit insincere.

          To Lord K’s Own – Don’t mean to be rude, but since I work in Canada’s cultural industries, I get a little ticked when someone is proud of stealing creative content.

          • I believe the problem is your loose interpretation of the English language. I do not believe in the formula “piracy = theft”. Jesse is most definitely a “pirate”, but you are most out of line when you call him a thief. The fact that you perceive the issue in such a black/white good/evil fashion is laughable at best. I stick to my original premise – if you were so bold as to insult me in such a fashion, I would remove my glove, slap you in the face, and challenge you to a duel (to the death), as such is the old school way to properly deal with such insulting scoundrels…

  7. Okay, looking through it some more, it seems what the government did was basically take all those public consulations, take the top 15 or so specific complaints and sent it to the lawyers with the instructions, “put in loopholes for these”, then they took the top 15 or so specific protections that were provided and sent them on with instructions, “but make sure these are covered.”

    The bill is a freaking mess. It’s got exceptions and then exceptions to the exceptions, and I think I found at least one exception to the exceptions of the exceptions.  I’m starting to think the CPC’s job creation strategy is to develop a need for Copyright Defense Attorney as a specific field.

    It creates differences between copyright infringement based on whether a person made money at it or not and explicitly tells judges to take it easy on people who can’t afford much  — something  you only do if you don’t think the people will support the law being enforced if they hear about it.

    And yet because we have a majority, this is going to get passed and most people will never know what the government they voted in is actually doing.

  8. Yet we have no laws here in Canada to ban the distribution, production nor viewing of heinous animal crush videos. We have no true regulatory body to ensure that deviancy is not freely aired over the internet. Go figure eh

  9. (4) Subsection (1) does not apply if the individual gives away, rents or sells the copy of the work or other subject-matter from which the reproduction is made without first destroying all reproductions of that copy that the individual has made under that subsection.”So if I was to rip a CD, put it on my iPod, and leave the original CD in my brother’s car, I would be a criminal?  wow.  

    • I’m almost certain that if you rip a CD on to your iPod and then leave the original CD with your brother you’re ALREADY a criminal.  Never mind the new bill, I’m pretty sure that’s not legal under CURRENT Canadian copyright law.

  10. Macleans should immediately withdraw this article. I can’t find a single thing in here that’s even remotely accurate. None of the activities described are legal under current copyright law. The only thing “criminal” that I can see is Mr. Brown’s spurious and incorrect use of the word “criminal”.

    • If I break the law, then I am a ______.

      • Sure, but how does the new copyright bill “make you a criminal” by making things illegal that are ALREADY ILLEGAL?  You`re claiming that the new copyright bill makes people criminals for doing X, Y or Z, but James’ point is that X, Y and Z are already illegal today.  If you’re doing the things above you’re breaking Canadian copyright RIGHT NOW.  If you’re already breaking the law, then you’re already a _________.

        • Too true. I was hoping they’d ease up on private-use copying from format to format, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. I want a format-free licence -i.e. I should be able to transfer from vinyl, cassette or CD to any of the current digital formats, or swap between formats, as long as it is for my own use – and if, say, my original cassette gets mangled I shouldn’t have to then delete my copy.

          If I’m sharing said copy with the world, however, then I should still be held accountable.

          The other thing I dislike about this law is the insane penalties they can theoretically mete out for breaking a digital lock on something legitimately purchased in order to copy something to a different format for personal use. In theory, at least, you’d be subject to less severe penalties for shoplifting the same item.

      • …a copyright infringer?

        What ever happened to “infringement isn’t theft”? 

        • You can’t bill the hour you spend trolling me, James (at least I hope you can’t).

      • Yeah, that’s pretty much the point, Mr. Brown. Your opinions on this bill are about as insightful as someone saying “now that we put a maximum speed limit on that new road, if you go over that speed limit you are suddenly breaking the law.”

        Well, duh.

    • Case 1 is not currently covered.  Not only does current copyright legislation gives the university a full year for usage without having to pay royalties, unless the material was commercially available in a form that would suffice for the needs of the course (aka textbook), more importantly, current copyright legislation contains absolutely nothing about you keeping material you have attained legally. This is what has lead to the current download exemption in Canada.

      Case 2 is probably not currently covered.  You are currently allowed to make copies for your own personal use. However, It is an infringement to “(b) distribute to such an extent as to affect prejudicially the owner of the copyright.”  The argument exists as to whether giving your two year old music to your little sister is going to prejudicially affect the copyright owner — especially when she’s probably just going to post your playlist to her facebook page so that she and her friends can laugh at your taste in music before she wipes the drive.

      Case 3 is probably not covered. The current copyright legislation doesn’t specifically guard portions of another person’s work, and things become even more grey if those portions are used in the creation of an original piece.   (With good reason, as this video aptly demonstrates: ). However the current legislation does guard the “moral rights” which allow the artist to cry foul if they feel the change in their work might damage their own reputation or the original piece. From my little bit of reading, courts, especially in Canada, feel that the use in the creation of an original piece does not in and of itself fulfill the criteria of damaging either reputation or original work.

  11. As someone said above, I’m not sure that the new law makes criminals out of anyone, at least not based on the examples cited.  I hate to tell you this, but I’m almost certain that almost every example you cited above is illegal TODAY under CURRENT Canadian copyright law.  Hell, under the CURRENT regime, there’s not even much chance that your professor is going to assign you a digital course pack.  Unless they’re willing to jump through a lot of hoops they’d have a heck of a time creating a digital course pack that includes excerpts of copyrighted material without breaking current Canadian copyright law.

    I’m not sure the new bill makes people in to criminals so much as it perhaps makes them aware that they’re technically already criminals as the media attention around the bill clues people in to the fact that they’ve been breaking the law all this time.

    • *raises hand*

      Simply owning a computer will be a crime because a computer is an avenue for piracy. Jus’ saying.

    • Jesse’s cases don’t touch the main one.

      New copyright law prevents you from making a copy for your own exclusive personal or backup use if you have to break a technological prevention measure to do so.

      What is a technological prevention measure? Section 41 tells us that a “technological protection measure” means any effective technology, device or component that, in the ordinary course of its operation, 

      (a) controls access to a work, to a perform- er’s performance fixed in a sound recording or to a sound recording and whose use is authorized by the copyright owner; or
      (b) restricts the doing — with respect to a work, to a performer’s performance fixed in a sound recording or to a sound recording — of any act referred to in section 3, 15 or 18 and any act for which remuneration is payable under section 19.

      You’ll note a piece of tape wrapped around the opening of a CD case qualifies, especially if it contains the words, “You can only open this case if you aren’t copying this.”

      With that, moving your CD collection to your iPod becomes illegal. Making a backup of your kid’s Tommy the Train DVD — because kids aren’t known to be terribly careful with them — is also illegal.

      And of course the biggest one and the largest difference: Someone giving you a copy of anything makes *you* a criminal, subject to statutory fines of $200 minimum unless you can show how that would cause you extreme hardship.

      • Allow me to add that I’m not defending the new copyright law per se, and there’s lots in there that I disagree with (including the bit that you cite) however, there are some good things in the new bill, and I do think it’s important for people to realize that a lot of the things that people are claiming the Tories are “about to make illegal” are ALREADY ILLEGAL.

        Hopefully, the Tories will be open to some constructive amendments, particularly around education exceptions, which imho should be very broad.  For all of our fear of “American-style” copyright law, many of the American fair use and educational provisions make things perfectly legal in the U.S. that can’t be done in Canada today.  A lot of Canadian professors trained in the U.S. simply assume that they can do X, Y or Z in their classes here and are shocked to discover that under CURRENT Canadian copyright law the same educational uses that would be prefectly acceptable south of the border are still considered illegal here.

  12. I downloaded 75 songs from Youtube this morning (and I’m miles from done yet) using a site my son showed me that converts the videos into mp3’s.
    I’ve burned 2 CD’s for the car and am about to load up my BlackBerry.

    And if you can remember, please tell Hetfield and Ulrich, when you see ’em, that there wasn’t one Metallica tune in the bunch.

    • Personally, I’d actually be less offended by your blatant thievery if you WERE stealing from Metallica.

  13. Extensive analysis of this bill is provided by copyright expert Dr. Michael Geist – law professor at the University of Ottawa – where he holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law. 
    See his blog at:
    I believe Dr. Michael Geist could provide a lot of interesting inputs to articles on this subject.

    Note: Bill C-11 is the latest iteration of the Canadian copyright reform bill that mirrors the previous Bill C-32.

  14. Thwin according to my understanding of that section/ subsection you won’t have to worry about torrents. It looks like every ISP will be guilty of an offense if they don’t block torrents. You tube may escape under the ‘designed primarily as’ condition but any sharing program will need to be blocked by an ISP.

    I wonder if steven harper every made a cassette tape of an album he owned for use in his car, and then loaned it to a friend?

    The only real solution here is a mass industry wide protest. If this law passes we need to stop purchasing the media the bill covers. As with all things there will be only a percentage of people that will truely understand and comply, but that might be enough to illustrate the issue with corporate revenue reductions.

    Anyone out there with the ability and capability to set up that web page? Jesse?

  15. I have a large number of DVDs which I legally purchased when I was living in the UK. I can’t play them on any of my DVD players here (due to the regional restrictions) – so I need to strip out the copy protection and play them on my media center instead (ditto for movies and TV shows that we like to watch often – we put them on the media center). C-11 will make me a criminal – and I don’t pirate a damned thing.