Industry minister admits to breaking copyright law to build iPod collection

OTTAWA – Industry Minister Tony Clement has an admission to make: He built his impressive music library on his iPod in part by breaking Canada’s copyright law.

Clement, stickhandling the copyright file for the Conservative government along with Heritage Minister James Moore, is poised to introduce new copyright legislation within days. But until the law is updated to permit Canadians to transfer music onto MP3 players from CDs they have purchased, Clement stands on the wrong side of Canada’s copyright law.

"Well you see, you know I think I have to admit it probably runs afoul of the current law because the current law does not allow you to shift formats. So the fact of the matter is I have compact discs that I’ve transferred, I have compact discs from my children or my wife that I’ve transferred onto my iPod. None of that is allowable under the current regime," Clement, a music buff who also legally purchases songs from iTunes to build a digital database that now stands at 10,452 songs.

"It shows that the current regime is not realistic and is not modern to encompass how people obtain their entertainment in today’s world," said Clement, calling the current law "antiquated."

"That’s what happens in a family. You do tend to share music that way and I think most people would find that to be perfectly acceptable behaviour. But our current law is so antiquated, it doesn’t contemplate that situation."

The question, though, is whether the Conservative government will take a flexible approach that is favourable to consumers in a slew of other areas or take a broad hard line approach that will please the United States and Canada’s entertainment industries.

The legislation is expected to make expressly legal a few basic things that consumers do everyday. This includes lifting the restriction on ripping music from a legally purchased CD to transfer to an MP3 player and permitting "time shifting" of television programs through widely used personal video recorders – if there are no digital locks to get around.

But with the possibility of an overarching emphasis on digital locks or technological protection measures to limit the transferring or sharing of content, a person could still run afoul of the law for simple things like breaking the code of a DVD shipped from a friend overseas so he can watch the video on his machine.

A documentary filmmaker, artist, student or reporter who gets around a digital lock to use a video or audio clip for a montage could also get in trouble, because digital locks trump all fair dealing provisions in copyright legislation. Fair use allows people to make use of copyrighted works without requiring permission in certain circumstances.

"It’s the issue that digital locks supersede everything else. You can provide any other kind of copyright protection guarantees for us to back up, and for research or study, but if there’s a digital lock on it, then you get treated the same as an international bootlegger counterfeiter. That’s just simply not a reasonable policy to foster innovation or to foster respect for copyright," said Charlie Angus, digital affairs critic for the NDP.

"What they’re giving is all the power to the corporate distributor and none of the power to the consumer and none of that money is going to the creator. That’s the problem with the Conservative approach to copyright," added Angus, a recording artist.

Clement declined to speculate about the prominence of digital locks in the bill, saying it’s still being drafted.

Moore, meanwhile, admitted to reporters last year he, too, ran afoul of the copyright law as an early adopter of the PVR. A spokesman on Wednesday said Moore was not immediately available to clarify whether any of the songs on his iPod put him offside of the law.

By the numbers and the bands

Clement has been building his digital music library since 2006, when he first got his iPod. Now Clement’s device holds 10,452 songs. After transferring previously purchased CDs by family members onto the device, he now buys all his music from iTunes, with a few exceptions. Clement has received a few CDs as gifts over the years that he’s transferred over, and he also bought the 2008 AC/DC release on CD because it wasn’t initially available online. None of the songs on his iPod are from peer-to-peer file sharing sites.

Hit Shuffle:

When Clement hits shuffle, here are the first 10 songs:

1. 1974 version of Let’s Twist Again by David Bowie and John Lennon

2. Pinball Wizard by The Who

3. Lakeside Park by Rush

4. Pretty Girls by Joe Jackson

5. Store Bought Bones by the Raconteurs

6. Maybe I’m Amazed by Paul McCartney

7. Meat Plow by Stone Temple Pilots

8. Further On Up The Road by The Band

9. Too Late, by No Doubt

10. Running to Standstill by U2

Dream playlist:

Clement’s dream playlist would include anything by The Clash and the Ramones, but some modern music as well. Bands on Clement’s "heavy rotation these days" include Muse, Kings of Leon, the new Broken Social Scene album and The Trews.

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