Thank you, Chair.
Honourable members, my name is John Lawford. I'm executive director and general counsel at PIAC, a national not-for-profit and registered charity. We provide legal and research services on behalf of consumers and, in particular, vulnerable consumer interests concerning the provision of important public services. PIAC has been active in the digital consumer protection world for over 20 years.
PIAC supports Bill C-244's creation of an exception to technical protection measures under the Copyright Act to allow consumers and businesses to circumvent TPMs for the purposes of diagnosing, maintaining and repairing a consumer product in which a computer program is embedded. PIAC believes that consumers should have the option to repair their own products or select repair providers of their choosing.
The fact that mechanical or electrical parts have been replaced by software in many consumer goods, such as household appliances, medical devices and vehicles, must not impede that possibility. Currently, consumers cannot legally circumvent TPMs, and as a result they are forced to use manufacturer repair services or manufacturer-endorsed, authorized repair shops when something goes wrong.
This restricted access makes it possible for manufacturers to set inflated prices, extend timelines, disconnect users' access when TPMs are circumvented, prevent users from accessing their own data, and create other unfavourable conditions for product utility and use, which can harm consumers financially, emotionally, and even physically. If the product needing repair is a tool required for work, such as a vehicle or a table saw, then manufacturer-imposed repair restrictions can potentially lead to job insecurity.
Consumer inability to circumvent TPMs can also create life-and-death situations. Under the current regime, many people who own software-integrated medical devices, such as insulin pumps and oxygen machines, cannot fix the medical equipment themselves or have qualified technicians service their devices without authorization from the manufacturer. This inability to seek out quicker or more cost-effective solutions places strain on those consumers and may result in their underservicing or needlessly replacing incredibly vital, expensive medical equipment.
The effects of limited repair options have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is creating workflow disruptions, supply shortages and reduced access to in-person services.
The expression of the repair right in Bill C-244 indeed covers a wide and generic range of software-enabled products. This aspect of the bill is a strength and is not over-broad. This means it applies to a piece of farm equipment, a thermostat, a medical device or a gaming console. This wide scope is needed to avoid siloing variable consumer rights in particular products.
Diagnosis, maintenance and repair are all related acts that further the public interest, the aims of which are: consumer freedom and the right to use their own, legally owned items; extension of the useful life of these products; avoidance of the consumer costs and the environmental harm from needless disposal of workable products, which often contain, as mentioned, toxic or precious, expensive-to-obtain materials and minerals; and increased control of the timing and expression of consumer demand, which can lead to increased competition, consumer choice, lower prices, improved customer service, greater innovation, and support of small, local repair businesses.
I'll speak briefly to what is missing in the bill—both interoperability, which, as has been mentioned, is the subject of another bill; and consumer manuals.
The bill lacks an exception to copyright infringement that allows consumers to find, reproduce and disseminate information such as diagnostic codes and repair manuals for the purpose of facilitating repair. This exception would be complementary to the TPM exception at issue in this bill and would better support the development of a repair market.
The new repair information right would be a species of fair dealing. Repair information requirements could be limited to personal, non-profit or commercial contexts, depending on where Parliament draws the balance between original equipment manufacturers and repair rights.
Without dealing in detail with interoperability, I'm happy to take questions. It could be either in this bill or in Bill C-294. The scope of interoperability is, I think, the issue, and whether we put a definition of “interoperability” into the Copyright Act in the section under consideration here, or in a different bill or act is something that we can discuss.
In conclusion, PIAC supports Bill C-244 as a necessary consumer protection in the digital economy.
I thank you and look forward to your questions.