The Canadian Supreme Court deems the internet to be "a technological taxi".
For the past year, Canada has been in the long-overdue process of dusting off and amending its out-of-date copyright laws. While the process has never quite generated the same kind of fervor that SOPA and PIPA did (the feelings of Canadians could be summed up as ambivalent at best) these laws have huge implications for copyright holders, customers, and even researchers. Last month, the Conservative majority put their best foot forward by finally passing a comprehensive amendment to the Copyright Act, and now the Supreme Court of Canada has joined in with a series of rulings, or more specifically overturnings, of multiple digital rights cases.
Before we continue, a bit of background. In Canada, internet service providers like Bell or Rogers traditionally pay royalty fees to copyright holders like the Society of Composers, Authors, and Music Publishers (or SOCAN) to download or stream licensed content. The Supreme Court reviewed several appeals by service providers and the Entertainment Software Association regarding additional royalty fees approved by the Copyright Board of Canada. These royalties would be applied on top of pre-agreed tariffs to copy materials; in short, there is one fee to copy digital purchases and another to actually download them. These music royalties also apply to videogame downloads, since games use licensed material from SOCAN members.
Of the five appeals, the Supreme Court completely overturned three rulings, scrapping download fees for games, music, and music previews. Download fees will still apply to music streaming since it does not leave a "permanent copy" on the hard drive, making the download comparable to a radio transmission. Finally, the Supreme Court overturned the ruling requiring tariffs for teachers and researchers to photocopy portions of textbooks for non-personal use, but sent the case back to the Copyright Board of Canada for additional review.
What's interesting about the Supreme Court rulings is that the judges made consumer-friendly decisions without drastically rethinking traditional legislation. According to the judges, a digital purchase is an identical purchase to an item from a retail store and must follow the exact same copyright rules of physical media. "The Internet should be seen as a technological taxi that delivers a durable copy of the same work to the end user," reads one of the rulings. "There is no practical difference between buying a durable copy of the work in a store, receiving a copy in the mail, or downloading an identical copy using the Internet."
As significant as these decisions may appear, Canadians shouldn't consider them set in stone. After all, the recent copyright amendment may actually have a provision that invalidates many of these arguments, so legal scholars will examine the rulings and the amendment very closely in the coming weeks to see what is needed next.
At the very least, we have the image of "the internet as a technological taxi." It sure beats the hell out of a series of tubes.