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Copyright: Digital Locks

Is there a Digital Lock protecting the work?

In the Copyright Act, there are two forms of technological protection measures (commonly referred to as TPMs or Digital Locks), which we describe as an access control, and a use restriction.

Access Control:

An Access Control is any technology, device or component that controls or restricts the access to a work, including passwords that prevent access to a work.

It is an offense under the Copyright Act to “circumvent” an Access Control. In this context, “circumvent” means:

“to descramble a scrambled work or decrypt an encrypted work or to otherwise avoid, bypass, remove, deactivate or impair the [Access Control], unless it is done with the authority of the copyright owner” (See section 41 of the Copyright Act)

If there is an Access Control on the work, you must not circumvent the Access Control to access the work, unless you are authorised by the copyright owner to do so. This means that even if you may otherwise have been able to copy a work under one of the exceptions within the Copyright Act (including educational exceptions and fair dealing exceptions), you cannot circumvent the Access Control to obtain a copy of that work.

For example, if you have been provided with an authorised password, or login using your CWL username and password to access works that are licensed by UBC, then you can legally access the work. However, if you have obtained a password or key via unauthorised means, e.g. found the solution to breaking a digital lock published on-line, then it would be an offense to circumvent the Access Control to access the work.

Use Restriction:

A Use Restriction is any technology, device or component that restricts you from doing something (other than accessing a file). For example, a Use Restriction can be a program that prevents you from copying text from a file, or prevents you from downloading a copy of the file.

Unlike an Access Control, it is not an offense under the Copyright Act to circumvent a Use Restriction (but see below). It is, however, an offense to offer services to the public or to actually provide services of circumventing any kind of Digital Locks, including Use Restrictions or to provide technologies, devices or components that circumvent Digital Locks.

User Rights that are Unavailable if a Digital Lock is Circumvented:

The following user rights are unavailable if you have circumvented a Use Restriction (or an Access Control):

    • Section 29.22 – Reproduction for Private Purposes (aka the form-shifting exception)
    • Section 29.23 – Fixing Signals and Recording Programs for Later Listening/Viewing (aka the time-shifting exception)
    • Section 29.24 – Back Up Copies – permits copying source copies for back up purposes
    • Section 30.04 – Work available through Internet – which permits educational institutions and those acting on their authority, to reproduce, communicate and perform works available through the internet



Text is from Copyright Guidelines for UBC Faculty, Staff and Students under a Creative Commons CC BY-SA 4.0 Licence. This page is licensed under a Creative Commons CC BY-SA 4.0 Licence.

Legal Disclaimer

The UNBC Copyright Office makes every effort to provide accurate copyright information for educational purposes. This information is not to be construed as legal advice and should not be relied upon in that regard.