Open Letter Re: Canada’s New Copyright Bill

Posted on June 23, 2008 by | Posted in News, on the web | Comments: 8 Comments on Open Letter Re: Canada’s New Copyright Bill

Canada’s minority Conservative government has tabled a new copyright bill, Bill C-61, which has come under fire from many people.

The Bill must go through several rounds of debate before it gets voted on in Parliament, and so vocal opposition to dangerous measures in the Bill are important.

The Bill has draconian provisions banning circumvention of digital locks, even in the case where the actual *reasons* you wish to circumvent digital locks are completely legal and legitimate. Some of these provisions could have an effect on Canadian LibriVox volunteers.

I wrote the following letter to the Ministers responsible for the Bill, cc’d to the Prime Minister and all the leaders of the opposition parties:

Jim Prentice, Minister of Industry
Josée Verner, Minister of Canadian Heritage
House of Commons
Parliament Buildings
Ottawa, Ontario
Canada K1A 0A6

Dear Ministers Prentice and Verner,

Thank you for your email of June 12, 2008 informing me of the introduction of Bill C-61, An Act to Amend the Copyright Act.

I am the founder of LibriVox project, an all-volunteer, web-based project to make audio recordings of public domain texts and give them away for free. Since our inception in 2005, we’ve run on a yearly budget of $0; yet we’ve become one of the most prolific makers of audio books in the world, with a production rate recently topping 100 books per month. We’ve got a catalog of some 1,500 audio books, including authors such as Dickens, Cervantes, Austen, Dante, Darwin, Sun Tzu, Hobbes, Einstein, and Plato. We also have a number of Canadian classics from Leacock, Lucy Maude Montgomery, and others. We have thousands of volunteers around the world, who make audio versions of texts and give them away because they believe access to knowledge and great literature is one of the most precious gifts we can give to each other. We’ve gained some fame over the years, with articles in the NY Times, radio spots on the BBC, as well as many more mainstream and web media mentions and profiles. The Vice President of Creative Commons recently called us “perhaps the most interesting collaborative culture project this side of Wikipedia.”

LibriVox is the sort of project that is on the outer edge of copyright case law, because what we do was not possible even a few years ago. At our core, we are about reading old books, but we use digital recording software, distributed production models, mass online collaboration, bit torrents, blogging and podcasting, online forums and wikis, bandwidth, mp3s and zip files, all to make recordings of old texts and give them away online for free.

I have some personal objections to Bill C-61 as it has been tabled, objections you’ve heard no doubt from thousands of concerned and angry Canadian citizens. But I wanted to outline two concrete examples of how Bill C-61 would criminalize legitimate activities of Canadian LibriVox volunteers.

EXAMPLE 1: A publisher puts a digital lock on an e-book of a text that is out of copyright, but difficult find in print.

A LibriVox volunteer has purchased the e-book and wishes to copy the public domain text and share it with fellow LibriVox volunteers so that they may make an audio version. Under Bill C-61 it is unlawful for the (Canadian) volunteer to circumvent the digital lock on the e-book, even though the text itself is in the public domain.

This scenario is not far-fetched, it is already happening: in one instance, an e-book version of the American Constitution (certainly in the public domain) was distributed with digital locks and (spurious) copyright terms restricting uses of the text. Of course those copyright terms did not legally apply to the text, but with C-61, it would not matter, because it would be illegal for Canadians to circumvent the digital locks to use the text in ways that they are legally entitled to use it.

Bill C-61’s anti-circumvention provisions mean that publishers get to decide, unilaterally, what is and is not in the public domain. In fact, Bill C-61 would encourage publishers to put digital locks on public domain works (as they already put false copyright claims on print versions), and effectively destroy the principle of limited copyright term, one of the basic tenets of copyright law.

EXAMPLE 2: LibriVox releases all its recordings into the public domain, which means that anyone may use them for any purpose, including commercial uses. A business may –legitimately and legally — decide to bundle and sell LibriVox recordings on CDs, with digital locks.

However, even though LirbiVox, the original publishers, put the recordings in the public domain so they are free to be copied, sold, or given away, the new publisher is able to restrict use on the republished recordings, by putting digital locks on them.

Under Bill C-61, even I, the founder of LibriVox, will be breaking the law by circumventing the digital locks put on LirbiVox recordings, sold by another publisher.

Bill C-61 will allow publishers to take works with liberal copyright terms, and restrict further uses of those works by adding digital locks. It will be illegal for Canadians to break those digital locks, even for uses allowed under the original license of the works.


These are two small examples from the LibriVox project, but they are indicative of Bill C-61’s problematic approach of criminalizing legitimate activities by making circumvention illegal.

Making digital locks sacrosanct and better protected than the rights of Canadian citizens makes no sense. As Bob Young has said, Bill C-61’s anti-circumvention provisions are “similar to making the use and ownership of screw-drivers and pliers illegal because they can be used to commit crimes such as burglary.”

The future of knowledge is digital. Bill C-61 is not just about mp3s of the latest rock n’ roll songs, or DVDs of television shows. Bill C-61 is about how Canadians can access, share, consume and use knowledge of all kinds.

If we are to have new copyright legislation in Canada, let’s be sure that we understand what we are doing, and why we are doing it. Let’s be sure that the new copyright legislation at least makes an attempt to understand the changes happening around us.

Librarians, educators, entrepreneurs, software developers, musicians, documentary film makers, and others, as well as thousands of Canadian citizens have voiced their opposition to Bill C-61. You can add to this list public domain audio book makers.

Locksmiths do not get to decide what property rights citizens have under Canadian law. Digital lock makers should not get to define our right to knowledge either.

Bill C-61 must be changed.


Hugh McGuire

Hon. Stephane Dion, Leader of the Opposition
Hon. Jack Layton, Leader, New Democratic Party
Hon. Gilles Duceppe, Leader, Bloc Quebecois
Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada

If this issue is important to you, send them an email. Better if you are in Canada, but some voices from other countries can’t hurt. Send your emails to: … and letters to:

Jim Prentice, Minister of Industry
Josée Verner, Minister of Canadian Heritage
House of Commons
Parliament Buildings
Ottawa, Ontario
Canada K1A 0A6



  1. Eunah Choi says:

    This C61 bill is, I think, just plain nonsense.
    What I think the most absurd part of it is that it has the possibility to prevent citizens from accessing public domain works.
    I am not a Canadian nor do I know about the copyright law thoroughly, but I voice my opposition to this ridiculous law!

  2. Andrei says:

    This bill is a mess. It contradicts it’s self and if passed will give content publishers too much power.
    In my understanding, by placing a (C) copyright on an article or even a comment (much like this one) the replication of this post becomes a violation, punishable by law with a fine of up to $500. Even more disturbing is the fact that by posting my comment, the website could pottentially be liable for distributing copyrighted materials.

    Just my 2 cents.

  3. Scott In Tennessee says:

    When I first read the outline of the law I just thought I misunderstood it. Upon rereading it and reading comments such as this site’s, I see I understood it from the first. It is the law that didn’t make since, not my reading of it. Can it be that these people are ignorant of what they are proposing or do they really want to stop education, information, history, and even harmless entertainment from reaching the masses and make criminals of people that help everyone from school children to the blind? That would be unpardonable and a step back into the dark ages. I am not familiar with Canada’s system of law, but surely what they propose would be struck down in the courts. Just one aspect of it would be locking the past or making public domain material your own personal property and removing it from the masses. Would we next be required to burn the books in the library to see that they aren’t read?

  4. larry cloyd says:

    Don’t complicate the efforts of world democracy! Make all written works that are free from copy-right limits available to all. What would this world be but a world of stutterers without Shakespeare , Mozart , Gutenberg , Piccasso , Dr. Martin Luther King and Albert Gore, to name a few on the tip of my mind?

  5. Kevin says:

    To Misquote Larry’s post:
    What would this Nation be, but a Nation of stutterers without Shakespeare , Mozart , Gutenberg , Piccasso , Dr. Martin Luther King and Albert Gore, to name a few on the tip of my mind?

    Nation read Canada

  6. Robert Moody says:

    I took the time to write the Canadian parliament as suggested in the blog. Did you? Please do. Someone sitting at a computer who is responsible for the e-mail that arrives there sees it all. It may just be a few people and ignored, but if you take the couple of minutes it requires to send it and forget about, it may become thousands and, in turn, make a real point.

    Obviously, from what we can read in the points made from this letter, the bill is way off-base. Let’s not just be the quiet reader who never does anything or who talks a lot of trash behind the safety of a computer monitor. Go right now, take a little step and send a quick e-mail telling them that you support this letter denouncing the bill.


  7. Thank you for the letter and your position

    I have posted and emailed my own letter today

    Thanks for the good work

  8. James Mites says:

    The whole copywrite issue is due to greedy companies like Sony who want to lock up records and sales. Some artists even want to make it illegal for you to resell original recordings you have bought. The digital rights media folks are crazy. I know of one movie that was dead it sold less than 500 copies in several years after it was picked up on the torrent files it sold 5000 copies in a year and it was a 1970 movie so cannot see it hurting anyone. The more knowledge is dispersed the better we are thank you for fighting this insane law.

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