This is my submission to Canada’s public consultation on copyright policy.
For background, see Michael Geist, and I’d also like to highlight his submission to the same process, which I find compelling. The general policy trade-offs have been covered well in submissions from people much more eloquent and erudite than I, so I tried to limit myself to a couple of brief points where I might have something unique to offer.
This presented here exactly as submitted, except for I HTMLified the links in transitioning from ASCII email, and omitted my street address.
Cc: Don Davies (my Member of Parliament).
Thank you for the deadline extension.
Introduction · My name is Tim Bray. I have been in the Information Technology business since 1981, and it has been good to me. I say, in joking conversation, that I am Canada’s second-most-famous computer programmer. My blog at has some tens of thousands of readers. I have been heavily involved with the Internet and the World Wide Web more or less since the inception of each. More details are available at Wikipedia.
Copyright is important to me as a writer, photographer, and the author of a substantial amount of copyright-protected source code.
Engineering Issues · First, speaking in my capacity at a computer-systems and Internet expert, I would like to emphasize the remarkable technical difficulty of designing and implementing anti-circumvention tools. These technologies have repeatedly suffered both positive and negative failures. Negative failures are when the technology fails to prevent unauthorized copying, and such failures are pervasive in all anti-circumvention technologies that have been deployed to date, as witness the wide availability of pretty well anything to someone who wishes to make an effort to find it.
Positive failures are when the technology prevents some use of protected material that in fact is legal and appropriate. While not as universal as negative failures, these have occurred with annoying regularity. For example, I currently experience considerable difficulty and irritation in transferring music (my music, legally acquired and paid for) from my Apple computer to my non-Apple cellphone.
The conventional, and correct, engineering wisdom teaches that when technology has repeatedly failed at providing a solution to a problem, the likelihood is that such failures are apt to continue.
My recommendation, following from this argument, is that copyright policy emphatically should not rely in any essential way on the use of technological anti-circumvention measures; such reliance is a recipe for failure.
Perception Issues · My second point has to do with popular perception and respect for the law. Particularly in the United States, there is a widespread loss of respect, among those educated on this issue, for copyright law as recently amended. Its term extension beyond what seems any reasonable limit, given the stated goal of incenting production from the creative classes, hardly promotes respect. I must confess that although I am in general a defender of copyright, when I read a story such as this one about the finance industry’s desire for ownership of the Beatles catalog, it seems to me that something is seriously wrong.
In a democratic society, the chance of achieving any policy goal is obviously related to popular support not only for the goal but for the means of achieving it. For this reason, I recommend that there be a simple, hard-to-challenge linkage between the goals — promotion of creative activity by providing incentives to creators — and the legislative mechanisms aimed at achieving them.
Thank you for your consideration.