Digital Locks And The Automation Of Virtue

“Digital Locks and the Automation of Virtue” in Michael Geist ed, From “Radical Extremism” to “Balanced Copyright”: Canadian Copyright and the Digital Agenda (Toronto: Irwin Law, 2010).

This chapter examines the social and moral cost of digital locks. I trace the concept and construct of a lock all the way back to the mythical Gordian knot, revealing two essential features of locks. First, I argue that locks are important not only for what they restrict, but for what they permit. I develop this idea in the context of digital locks using the concept of automated permissions. Second, I argue that the restrictions imposed by locks come with a social and moral cost; namely, that the adoption of a universal digital lock strategy could undermine the cultivation of moral virtue.

I begin with an examination of a series of historical and cultural vignettes investigating the nature, purpose and symbolic significance of locks. I then examine digital locks and the power afforded to keyholders to control others through the automation of permissions, in effect enabling or disabling the world we live in by setting terms and conditions for its use. After discussing the control locks give to the keyholders, I illustrate the potential progression of a widespread digital lock strategy and what this might mean. I then go on to ask how this might affect us as moral actors who desire to do good things. In answering this question, I try to demonstrate that a state sanctioned, unimpeded and widespread digital lock strategy would impair our moral development by impeding our ability and desire to cultivate the practical wisdom necessary for the acquisition of morally virtuous dispositions. Finally, I briefly investigate Bill C-32, Canada’s (former) proposal for sanctioning the use of digital locks and prohibiting their circumvention. Arguing that the flaws in Bill C-32 are symptomatic of the larger digital lock strategy, I conclude that the proposed legislative solution is inelegant – a brute force formula that fails to achieve a balanced copyright framework.

Given that the Government of Canada has recently enacted anti-circumvention provisions in its The Copyright Modernization Act, I hope that you will give this Chapter careful consideration.

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