Copyright Law: How to Write to Your Representative in Canada (or the US)

By Russell McOrmond 10/21/05

While Russell's guidelines are geared for Canadians speaking to their members in Parliment, most of the suggestions he makes work well for Americans who wish to express their concerns to their congressional representatives. --editor

A talk by Ian Kerr, professor of law and Canada research chair in ethics, law and technology at the University of Ottawa, is slated for October 27 between 7:45 - 9 AM at the Parliamentary Restaurant, 6th Floor, Centre Block.

His speech is entitled, What happens when law protects the technologies that protect copyright?.


Russell McOrmond

Legal protection for technical measures being added to copyright law is one of the most controversial and least understood parts of Bill C-60. A lot of people, concerned about its possible negative impact, want to write to their members of parliament, but aren't clear on what to say or how to say it.

I'm no an expert, but I hope I can use a letter and I'd like to share what I know.

Obviously, the first step is to find who your member of parliament is, if you don't already know. We have a link on our web site that provides some tools. We also have a section for each federal electoral district, so it's appropriate to find your district to see what's been written about the MP in your area.

It's important with your letter to remember that most politics is local. While we're concerned about a federal government bill, we want to make the letter as relevant to individual members of parliament as possible. If you know anything about their personal interests, or anything they've said about copyright and related policy in the past, it's helpful to mention this.

As an example, if I were a constituent in the riding of Bonavista-Exploits where Scott Simms is the member of parliament, I'd mention the question he asked the heritage minister about the recording industry possibly targeting his son for lawsuits. If I were a constituent in Kildonan-St. Paul, I'd want to talk about the times their MP, Joy Smith, asked about copyright and education during question period.

Each member of parliament is also a member of a political party. While political beliefs around copyright aren't divided along party lines, there are other political issues which can be leveraged.

Don't feel shy about cutting-and-pasting from other letters you've seen, or worry that your letter is short. It's more important that your views are known to your MP, and that they have your contact information for further discussion.

If you signed the Petition for Users' Rights, let your MP know. This petition opens many important questions. It may be helpful to hilight some part of the petition as being of specific interest to you.

In collecting signatures to forward to MPs, I've noticed some people highlighted the last sentence that said, "We further call upon Parliament not to extend the term of copyright; and to recognise the right of citizens to personally control their own communication devices". This emphasizes one of the harms of technical measures used in the context of copyright.

While it's simplest to send a quick e-mail message, there's a greater impact on the politician the more effort you're seen to put into the communication. Because sending letters to your member of parliament is free when you send to their parliamentary offices, the only additional cost to you (apart from your time) is the paper, envelope.

When your letter is received by the parliamentary office, whether in e-mail or Canada Post, it'll first be filtered by staff. It's important to have your address information at the top, including your postal code, so staff can quickly confirm that you are a constituent. Letters from confirmed constituents will be definitely read, but letters that aren't may not be.

Put a date on every letter, and keep a copy. You may receive a reply to your letter months in the future that'll reference the date of your letter, and you'll want to have a way to quickly reference back to what you said.

My riding is Ottawa South, and my member of parliament is David McGuinty. I've written many letters in the past, and have met him many times. It was because of this that he was willing to table petition signatures for us.

Here's a sample letter inviting McGuinty to next week's event. Please cut-and-past anything you think would be useful in your own letter.

Russell McOrmond
Address
Phone number
http://www.flora.ca/
Date

Dear David McGuinty,

MP for Ottawa South

I am writing this letter to ensure that you are aware of a special Breakfast on the Hill seminar from 7:45 - 9 am on Thursday, October 27 at the Parliamentary Restaurant, 6th Floor, Centre Block. The speaker is professor Ian Kerr, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Ethics, Law and Technology at the University of Ottawa. The title of the seminar is "What happens when law protects the technologies that protect copyright?".

Full details are available at: http://www.digital-copyright.ca/node/1125

The harm of giving legal protection to technologies claimed to help protect copyright is what brought me into the copyright reform process a little over 4 years ago. It is also the issue we were trying to highlight in the Petition for Users' Rights when we said, "We further call upon Parliament ... to recognise the right of citizens to personally control their own communication devices." I hope that you will agree that Canadians have legitimate property rights in the content and digital technology which they lawfully purchase.

While there are appropriate uses of technical measures such as digital locks to protect e-commerce, many of which are important to copyright holders trying to sell their content, these are provincial issues which should be dealt with in appropriate provincial legislation. I believe that legal protection for these measures has no place in copyright law, and any mention of technical measures in copyright law will only have harmful consequences. The federal government should be protecting Canadians against harmful misuses of these technologies, such as by modernizing competition and privacy legislation to take technical measures into consideration.

Bill C-60 does not differentiate between appropriate uses and harmful misuses of these technologies. I hope that you will help direct the government to fix these shortcomings of the bill, or to withdraw the bill entirely.

Thank you. I am available to meet with you to discuss any questions you may have.

Russell McOrmond

You should print and sign your letter. On the envelope you should address it to:

Name of Member of Parliament
Name of Constituency
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

Postage is free to the House of Commons, so you don't need to use a stamp when you drop it off to be delivered.

Please send an electronic copy to "letters-at-digital-copyright.ca" (put @ instead -at- ), saying if you're willing to have it published, or if we should just use it for internal purposes such as keeping track of the fact constituent letters were sent.

It would be useful for your letter to be used to help encourage other people to write.

Alternatively send a link or a plain-text version of your letter to the digital-copyright.ca discussion mailing list, or post an HTML version to your personal BLOG that is attached to the digital-copyright.ca website.

Thanks.

While Russell's guidelines are geared for Canadians speaking to their members in Parliment, many of the suggestions he makes also serve as well for Americans who wish to express their concerns to their congressional representatives. --editor

Russell McOrmond, the editor of Digital Copyright Canada, is an independent author (software and non-software) who uses modern business models and licensing (Free/Libre and Open Source Software, Creative Commons).

 


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