Canada and intellectual property

Will you go to jail in Canada if you share files via peer to peer?

It looks like the answer is no. Slashdot explains that the US is mightily upset with Canada’s refusal to follow the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. It links to Michael Geist’s site, for further info. Geist is a professor of law at U Ottawa and is a frequent commenter on law, e-commerce, and copyright. I’ve referenced his work a number of times because he’s an invaluable resource on Canadian Crown Copyright issues. Geist excerpts the following from the Office of the US Trade Representative

Canada is being maintained on the Special 301 Watch List in 2005, and the United States will conduct an out-of-cycle review to monitor Canada’s progress on IPR [intellectual property rights] issues during the upcoming year. We urge Canada to ratify and implement the WIPO [World Intellectual Property Organization] Internet Treaties as soon as possible, and to reform its copyright law so that it provides adequate and effective protection of copyrighted works in the digital environment.

What gets me is that at the same time Canada takes a narrow view on intellectual property vis-a-viz the private sector, it’s absolutely committed to Crown Copyright, which allows almost perpetual ownership of government-generated data. This makes the use of geographic information systems (GIS)–computerized mapping software–very difficult. GIS relies on copious quantities of data and most of that data comes from government sources. Most of the data is environmental, such as rivers, vegetation and topography, although the most commonly seen data is roads data in applications such as MapQuest. Under US copyright law, slight rearrangements of the data constitute a shift in ownership–you add value to it, you own it. By contrast, under Crown copyright, considerable modification of the data only adds to the value of the Queen’s data–you modify it, the Queen thanks you very much and takes it back. Remember, the public has already paid for this data. But it has to pay again if it wants to use the data.

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