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Quotation

10 June 2010

We may have a problem.

The Canadian Parliament has just tabled Bill C-32 (full text), which aims to amend copyright laws. This bill does several things, many of them good. But here's a snippet from page 43:

Technological Protection Measures and Rights Management Information

41. The following definitions apply in this section and in sections 41.1 to 41.21.

"circumvent" means,

(a) in respect of a technological protection measure within the meaning of paragraph (a) of the definition "technological protection measure", to descramble a scrambled work or decrypt an encrypted work or to otherwise avoid, bypass, remove, deactivate or impair the technological protection measure, unless it is done with the authority of the copyright owner; and

(b) in respect of a technological protection measure within the meaning of paragraph (b) of the definition "technological protection measure", to avoid, bypass, remove, deactivate or impair the technological protection measure.

"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 performer'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.

41.1 (1) No person shall

(a) circumvent a technological protection measure within the meaning of paragraph (a) of the definition "technological protection measure" in section 41;

I'm sorry for that. I'm no lawyer, and although I'm a polyglot, legalese is not my language of choice, but I'll try to break this down for you:

  1. It is a violation of copyright law to circumvent a "technological protection measure".
  2. A "technological protection measure" is any device or component that restricts access to recordings of "a performer's performance".

Think about that for a moment, because the implications may not be obvious.

Let's say, just for the sake of the hypothetical, that I'm the proud owner of an iPhone. If I attempt to use my iPhone in a non-iTunes-compliant manner—enabling SSH access, for example—and I have even one "performer's performance fixed in a sound recording" on that device, I have become a criminal. At least, that's how it reads to me.

I think that the man who hacked the Xbox phrased it beautifully:

I own the things that I buy. If someone can tell me what I can and can’t run on my hardware, then I don’t own it.
—Andrew "bunnie" Huang,
in the afterword to Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow

I jailbroke my iPhone in large part because of the ideas expressed in Cory Doctorow's Little Brother. If this bill becomes law, I will in all likelihood become a criminal—and I'm okay with that. I think that's better than allowing the government to dictate how I may and may not use my own device.

For the record, I understand why Apple is so strict in the way it allows users and developers to interact with its technology (at least, I think I do): Apple wants its users to have a specific type of experience. Apple wants everything to work fairly smoothly, to interact in a well-regimented way, and to not confuse or overwhelm the user. Fair enough. I love Linux, but I certainly don't think that the average computer user would agree with me: there's a reason that OS X is so popular. And Apple has every right to do business the way that they see fit.

But I own this device. The fact that I can do this

$ ssh root@192.168.0.103
$ ls /User/Media/iTunes_Control/Music

should not make me a criminal—though I'll admit that some of the pleasure that I take from accessing that directory is due to the fact that it is named iTunes_Control.

It may be time to contact my member of parliament.

If you haven't read Cory Doctorow's Little Brother, I highly recommend it. It is gripping, real, entertaining, suspenseful, and simply an excellent tale, even if you're not a geek. You can find the full text (free of charge!) at Cory Doctorow's website, craphound.com. There you can also find the full text of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, which is far and away my favourite futurist novel of all time.

Little Brother is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike license.

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivative Works license.

Tip of the digital lock-pick to Gary Barbon.


Edit: I forgot to mention this, but CIPPIC seems to be a fairly good source of information on this matter—although, at the moment, the contents of their Bill C-32 FAQ are blank.

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