Bell Dodged a Bullet… For Now.

When Steven Harper called a federal election on September 7th he effectively killed all bills progressing through parliament.  Bill C-61, containing controversial changes to the Copyright Act, was amongst the casualties.  While there is widespread support for remodeling the Copyright Act the direction taken by the Conservatives was not so popular.  The government’s heavy emphasis on protecting the rights of owners above both creators and users have left many seeing the legislation as an unbalanced approach.  The opposition in itself is not unusual, however the actions of one stakeholder in particular raise important questions as to how such opposition is manifested and who stands to lose. 

Bell Canada introduced a new product during the opening ceremonies of the Olympics in August of this past summer.  The product enables subscribers to buy an external hard drive to accompany its personal video recorder, which enables them to store recorded materials from TV indefinitely.  This product would be in direct violation of the proposed Bill C-61, which would still allow TV shows to be recorded for later viewing but only be stored long enough for them to be watched at a convenient time, certainly not indefinitely. 

The first reading of Bill C-61 occurred on June 12, 2008, almost 3 months before Bell débuted the product.  While Bell may have relied on the political rumblings of an early election when marketing this product the reality is that they have only temporarily avoided the situation.  Recent polls are showing a strong possibility of a Conservative majority government, in which case if they are truly interested in making these changes to the Act there will be no one standing in their way.

So where does this leave Bell Customers who have bought the new technology?  In this author’s view they are now the unknowing pawns in a chess match between the government and corporation.  Bell is no doubt hoping the public will oppose their new device being taken away from them and therefore decrease the political will to implement the legislation as it was drafted. While one could argue that this may indeed be the most effective means of accomplishing their ends – the real issue is whether the ends justify the means?

This brief thought is not meant to weigh the value of the new legislation as drafted or that of Bell’s new technology, but it does compel us to ask the following question: at whose are these changes being made?  While Bell has caught a temporary reprieve it appears clear that the consumers are the ones who have been used in this game.  Is this really the best way to achieve public policy change? And who should be held accountable?