The federal government tabled legislation on Thursday that will see individuals fined a maximum of $500 if they are caught downloading copyrighted files.

However, an industry expert says the fines could reach the millions for those caught making their files available online for others to download.

Industry Minister Jim Prentice tabled the proposed amendments to the Copyright Act in the House of Commons on Thursday.

The proposed amendments include:

  • new exceptions that will allow Canadian consumers to legally record television shows for later viewing and copy legally acquired music onto other devices, such as iPods or cellphones;
  • new exceptions for some educational and research purposes;
  • new rights and protections for those who create content;
  • provisions to address the liability of Internet service providers and the role they should play in curbing copyright-infringing activities on their networks.
Prentice said one of the motivations behind the amendments was to balance the rights of those who hold copyright with the needs of users accessing copyright works.

"This is a unique made-in-Canada approach to copyright reform," Prentice told reporters Thursday. "This is truly a win-win situation for Canadian consumers who use digital technology and for everyone who creates material that becomes digitally accessible."

Made-in-U.S.A. approach

However, David Fewer, staff counsel at the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic, compared the amendments to a "wolf in sheep's clothing."

Fewer, speaking to CTV Newsnet on Friday, said the amendments are not "made in Canada" but are instead similar to legislation in the United States.

He said the legislation paves the way for the kind of file-sharing lawsuits that have occurred in the United States.

"This legislation makes it clear that use of peer-to-peer (file sharing) technology is not legal in Canada and will be subject to statutory damages," said Fewer.

He said the $500 maximum fine for downloading is not applicable to situations where a user makes their copyright files available for others to access.

"So if you have music or video in your shared folder you are subject to the ordinary rules of statutory damages -- which is $500 to $20,000 per work -- that could be millions of dollars worth of damages," he said.

The new legislation would also make it illegal to copy a CD or DVD if it involves breaking a so-called "digital lock" place on the material by a distributor.

"In that space there's been basically a capitulation to the demands of the big American companies and the American trade representatives," said Fewer.