Laurel L. Russwurm's Free Culture Blog

a writer, the copyfight and internet freedom

Posts Tagged ‘sharing

digEcon backstory (Bill C-32)

with 4 comments

[on May 21, 2010 I simul-posted an article about the Canadian Digital Economy Consultation in three of my blogs in hopes of encouraging participation in the consultation process. I felt this was necessary since thousands of Canadians were still so angry after participating in the Copyright Consultation only to be ignored by the Government. My direct participation was limited because I was getting my debut novel "Inconstant Moon" ready for publishing. I did manage a submission, but as I look at how the digEcon went I regret I was unable to participate more.

There are digEcon issues to write but what started as an Oh! Canada post grew too big (even for me). Instead I'm breaking it down into a three part series across my blogs. The first part is published here in the wind because this is where I generally look at copyright issues because they affect me as a content consumer and a writer. The second part will go into Oh! Canada and the final part into StopUBB. When all three are complete I'll add link arrows.]

Canadian Flag

If you’ve followed the Canadian Copyright debacle you might want to skip the recap & go straight to the last paragraph.

The Canadian Government put on a Copyright Consultation last year, inviting Canadians to offer input on copyright so the government could take it into consideration when drafting new copyright law. Sounds good, eh? Democratic Government.

copyright symbol over a red maple leaf

Except.

The copyright consultation wasn’t produced out of governmental good will. You have to look at the back story to “get it”.

The last time the Canadian Liberal Party was in power in a minority Government, they tabled a draft copyright law known as Bill C-60 back in 2005.  Fortunately for Canada this law did not slip through.  Once the contents of the draft legislation became known it was generally reviled by Canadians.  We were quite fortunate that we had a minority government and that it folded before this bad law might have passed.

[Not because it was a good law, but because the worst part of our electoral system is that a so-called "majority party" can pass whatever legislation they like, even if the rest of the country is against it. Canada needs electoral reform (check out Fairvote Canada to get involved. But that's another story.]

Conservative Party of Canada logoThe subsequent minority government was formed by the Conservative Party of Canada. They tabled draft copyright legislation known as Bill C-61, which was also universally reviled. Again we were fortunate that we had a minority government and that it folded before this law might have passed.

Both of these efforts came under fire at least partially because they were handed down like tablets from “on high”.

There had been no discussion with or input from citizens.

More unusual, it appears that the rich and powerful corporate and collective stakeholders– the ones ordinarily be counted on to back the government up– had been left out of the process as well.  Meaning there was essentially there was no support for either version of this legislation.

[The key question that has to be asked is "Why?"]

The ensuing election did not result in the Conservative Party majority they expected. After all, under Canada’s current electoral system, a majority government can pass any law it likes. So instead of just dusting off Bill C-61 and trying again, the pressure to “strengthen” Canadian copyright law led to the Conservative Government surprising us all with the announcement of a Canada wide “Copyright Consultation”.

Strategically this was brilliant: instead of trying to push essentially the same law through a second time, they gave Canadians a chance to be heard.  Holy democracy Batman!

It didn’t quite come off without a hitch: the Copyright Consultation had a traveling ‘dog and pony show’ that raised more hackles than it calmed. Accusations of stacking the deck at the so-called ‘Town Hall’ meetings, citizens– including Canadian Federation of Students members and elected Member of Parliament Olivia Chow– were prevented from distributing copyright info flyers to people attending the “Town Hall” meetings. You can read about the whole gory extravaganza on Michael Geist‘s public service Speak out on Copyright site.

With such heavy handed efforts being made to control the outcome, it was actually quite depressing to sit down and write my own copyright consultation submission.

But it was important and so I did it.

Even though copyright law had already impacted on my life in many ways over the years as both a consumer and creator I’d never really thought about copyright before. I was actually surprised by all the things that bubbled up out of my life experience into my formal submission.

Over the months following the #copycon I’ve taken the time to read through some of the other submissions. I learned a great deal I did not know, and my opinion and feelings about copyright have been enriched by things I have read and learned. They are all still there online, ready to be read. Over eight thousand Canadians responded to the #copycon.

I have been amazed at the depth of thought, the intelligence, the innovation and creativity expressed by many of my fellow Canadians. I’ve learned so much. But even more, reading these submissions made me proud to be part of this great land. Almost all of the Canadians who made submissions firmly rejected anything like a DMCA style copyright law for Canada.

The Copyright Modernization Act

Perhaps change for the sake of change is a reasonable when you’re tired of your home decor, but it’s not a good reason to change law. Before making new copyright law, we must have a Canada wide consensus on the issues. What is copyright for?

  • What is reasonable to Canadians?
  • What is sharing?
  • Or personal use?
  • Or piracy?
  • are we willing to lower previously accepted standards of evidence?
  • What kind of penalties are reasonable for non-commercial copyright infringements… in other words, should children who share music go to jail?

Intellectual Property is the most unnatural kind of law possible. Because it runs contrary to the natural inclinations of both creators and society it’s the kind of law that can’t simply be handed down by corporations and lawmakers. It must be an agreement between creators and society– that’s the balance that has to be achieved for it to work. The foundation has not been laid to allow for changing the copyright law we have now.

Changes being made to copyright law at the behest of corporate special interest groups in recent years have troubled me greatly, but they have been counter balanced by offering creators recourse to the marvelous Creative Commons Licensing. CC allows the creator to decide how copyright can best serve us in creation and distribution of our work. It has been excellent for our culture; the Canadian Arts are entering a golden age.

Yet this year the Government has just tabled “new” legislation called Bill C-32 “The Copyright Modernization Act.” Not the healthy balanced copyright law that most of us had hoped for, but rather the long dreaded Canadian DMCA. Thousands of Canadians, like myself, feel betrayed because our government totally ignored our input. Input that the Government asked for through the Copyright Consultation.

As it stands this legislation would remove copyright control from creators by making it subject to manufacturers DRM/TPM or “digital locks”. Digital locks of any kind shouldn’t even be part of the conversation about copyright.

Cover art for my novel locked in a jail cel secured with a padlock marked with the copyright symbol

Bill C-32 would lock up my novel

As a creator, as a writer, this is horrifying. For hundreds of years copyright has existed with the intention of allowing content creators a means of making a living. And the very first content creators were writers. Copyright was made for us.

Canadian creators will lose our ability to control our work with Creative Commons Licensing if Bill C-32 is passed because digital locks will appear on all blank media and all media devices from e-readers to hard drives. Bill C-32 will give sole control of copyright to manufacturers.

So far this dreadful law has not passed.

Yet.

There has been a big outcry. Many Canadians have been speaking out against it.

During this uproar, suddenly we have the announcement of a new initiative:

The Digital Economy Consultation

Many Canadians have viewed this with skepticism. Many intelligent, informed and thoughtful Canadians did not participate at all, wondering why they should bother when the Government won’t listen anyway? Isn’t this Digital Economy Consultation website just a sham?

A Digital Economy con? A way to deflect the criticism from Bill C-32?

I don’t think it matters. It is important to speak out even if they don’t listen.

The Copyright Consultation resulted in a volume of clearly Canadian work. Together the online #copycon submissions make up an online reference work that other Canadians can read online.

Canadians are smart. We can learn from each other even if this Government won’t. Some future Government may be clever enough to act on our ideas even if this Government will not. That’s why I wrote an article urging people to contribute to the digEcon and simulcast it across all my blogs. Yet for most of the consultation period I’ve been hard at work on my novel.

It wasn’t until quite late in the game I was able to spare the time for it, but I just managed it. I’m not entirely happy with what I submitted. But I was running on empty to make the deadline, and I did. It wasn’t as brilliant as I would have liked, but that’s life. I even had the better part of an hour before midnight, just in case there were technical difficulties.

When I went to make the submission I was surprised to see that the consultation period had been extended. Great. The extension meant that I could actually proof my submission and perhaps minimize the incidence of spelling mistakes and typographical errors. But why?

No explanation, just an extension. I wondered what that was about.

Looking back at the Copyright Consultation, there were so many people making eleventh hour submissions that the government granted a 24 hour “grace period”. They didn’t open that all up again, as they did here.

For the digEcon, they added four days. What an odd number. If they were going to extend it a useful amount, a month would have been good. And it wasn’t just submissions that were allowed over the four days, it was everything. Like voting on Idea Forum ideas. Keeping the Idea Forums open for a month might have been really productive. Just think of the collective brilliance that might have come out of that. But no, it was four days.

Not enough time to allow most ordinary Canadians enough time to create a submission or participate in the forums. So why did they do it?


Reference Material – Canadian Copyright Law

  • Full Text: Bill C-60
  • Full Text: Bill C-61
  • Bill C-32: the Copyright Modernization Act
  • Digital Copyright Canada: Bill C-32 Frequently Asked Questions
  • Canada don’t need no stinkin’ DMCA (or DCMA)
  • Joel Goguen: Bill C-32: Canadian DMCA
  • Reference Material – Information on American Copyright Law

    Image Credit: Copyright jail Question Copyright Sita Distribution Project remixed with my “Inconstant Moon” cover art by laurelrusswurm



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