Copyright Update: C-11 and ACTA

Canadian DMCA logo

Fortunately Bill C-11 has not yet become law.


Unfortunately it is only a matter of time before our majority government passes this misguided “copyright modernization” legislation currently called Bill C-11.

[This is the exact same law that was called Bill C-32 by the previous Conservative Government. Earlier incarnations were known as Bill C-61: An Act to amend the Copyright Act (by the Conservatives), and Bill C-60: An Act to amend the Copyright Act (by the Liberals).]

Although Canadians have mounted waves of opposition against each succeeding incarnation of a “Canadian DMCA,” both Liberal and Conservative Canadian Governments have attempted to pass copyright legislation that’s clearly against Canadian interests.   Initially there was only supposition that the various drafts of a “Canadian DMCA” were produced in response to American pressure.  After all, the USTR has been spreading misinformation about supposed Canadian piracy for years, in spite of the fact that the American DMCA has not stopped American digital piracy levels from being far higher than ours.   Thanks to Wikileaks it is no longer an unsubstantiated guess: the Canadian government wants only to pass a Copyright Law that will make the American Government happy.

Four different Canadian Governments led by our two traditional ruling parties have tried to accomplish this, the previous efforts failed due to a combination of opposition and politics.

But this time it is different: our majority Conservative Government can pass anything it likes.

The only possible way to stop it is for public outcry.  The problem is that most Canadians still don’t know this is happening or why it is important or what it will do.  The mainstream media coverage has not helped raise awareness because their corporate masters have a vested interest; after all, the MPAA and RIAA (through its branch plant formerly known as CRIA) have a very long reach.

TPM, DRM, Digital Locks

DRM technologies attempt to give control to the seller of digital content or devices after it has been given to a consumer. For digital content this means preventing the consumer access, denying the user the ability to copy the content or converting it to other formats. For devices this means restricting the consumers on what hardware can be used with the device or what software can be run on it.

Wikipedia: Digital rights management

The single reason that Bill C-11 will be so devastating is that it sets TPM (Technical Protection Measures) as the most powerful element of Canadian copyright law.   TPMs (also known as copy protection) are the main weapon used in the DRM (Digital Restrictions Management) arsenal, and are commonly referred to as “Digital Locks” in Canada.

Whatever you call it, it will be terrible for Canadians.   It won’t matter if a person has legally purchased a copy of an eBook,  game, a movie or music, if Canadians need to circumvent TPMs in order to read, play watch or listen to our own legal copies, we will be breaking the law.  If I want to watch a movie DVD on my Linux computer, I won’t be able to.  Linux users will be forced to switch to Apple or Windows operating systems of they want to watch their DVDs.  If I want to format shift any digital media I’ve purchased so that it will play on the device of my choosing, I won’t be able to without breaking the law.

Does this mean it will be illegal to have my printer’s ink cartridges refilled with off brand ink? Probably. I was foolish enough to buy a printer that has computer chips in its printer cartridges. The chip tells the printer not to work because a certain amount of ink has been used or the printer cartridge is too old. Bypassing that programming may well be considered circumvention of the manufacturer’s technical protection measures. After all, to be protected under the new Bill C-11 Copyright Law, TPMs won’t have to be tied to any actual copyright infringement or criminal wrongdoing.

This is not a good thing for consumers.

Once this law is passed, I imagine that it will be only a matter of time before every digital device and most software destined for the Canadian market will be tightly locked in DRM.  Further, as a self publishing Canadian writer, my further concern is also that digital locks may well be used to limit distribution of my own work.

Why did Canada sign ACTA?

The speed with which digital innovation and the Internet have set the world on end is unprecedented; even Malcolm Gladwell, one of Canada’s brightest sons doesn’t get it. So I’m inclined to think that the largest problems is that most of our government doesn’t understand the issues.

It is unreasonable to expect elected officials to understand everything. They are only human, after all, and so they can’t. What they must do, is to find out about each issue as it arises, and the fastest way to do this is to consult with the experts. The problem that has arisen is that the experts governments the world over rely on when forging laws to govern this new technology are the mainstream media. And the mainstream media has a clear and present interest in both copyright and and controlling technological innovation.

It is very possible that C-11 is intended as a law to allow Canadian compliance with the dreadful ACTA Trade Agreement.

The world wears Mouse ears and reads ACTA attacks Internet is the La Quadrature Du Net ACTA Logo

ACTA is one more offensive against the sharing of culture on the Internet. ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) is an agreement secretly negotiated by a small “club” of like-minded countries (39 countries, including the 27 of the European Union, the United States, Japan, etc). Negotiated instead of being democratically debated, ACTA bypasses parliaments and international organizations to dictate a repressive logic dictated by the entertainment industries.

ACTA, a blueprint for laws such as SOPA and PIPA, would impose new criminal sanctions forcing Internet actors to monitor and censor online communications. It is thus a major threat to freedom of expression online and creates legal uncertainty for Internet companies. In the name of trademarks and patents, it would also hamper access to generic medicines in poor countries.”

La Quadrature Du Net

Although Canadian negotiators were included in the secret ACTA treaty negotiations, sitting members of parliament and the public were deliberately kept in the dark as to what ACTA was about. Although ACTA is supposed to stand for “Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agrement” the prime reason for its secrecy was the copyright law provisions.

Among those who are aware of ACTA, its agenda is believed to be that of the American movie and music industries. These Industries have been investing unprecedented amounts of time and money in attempts to coerce sovereign nations around the world to enact copyright laws beneficial to their special interests.

In spite of the fact that the final round of ACTA negotiations failed to achieve consensus in the secret negotiations, some time later Canada went ahead and signed the treaty anyway. The European Parliament signed ACTA a few days after the SOPA protest, but it must pass a plenary vote this summer before it will be official.

Oh! Canada: Memo to World: Stop ACTA Now!

Stop The Canadian DMCA

NO Canadian DMCACopyright law has always been concerned with Intellectual Property, but Bill C-11 strays into the realm of physical property. A law that prevents citizens from making personal use of our own legally purchased media on the digital devices of our choices strays beyond the realm of intellectual into the realm of physical property. Making all circumvention illegal is equivalent to putting citizens in jail for breaking into our own home of we’ve inadvertently locked ourselves out.

Bill C-11 is *not* in the Canadian interest.

More information can be found in my Oh! Canada article
“Bill C-11 Backgrounder: A Brief History of the Canadian DMCA” and What to do about Bill C-11 ?

Technical Aspects: check Russell McOrmond’s Conservative Copyright Bill C-11

Legal Aspects: Michael Geist – latest post includes the video short Strombo’s Soapbox: My Take on Bill C-11

Bill C-11 Status

Keep up with the status of this problematic draft legislation by checking LEGISinfo.


Copyright and Sharing Music

Shared from an email I’ve just written:

The radio used to be how I discovered new music. Probably twenty years ago I stopped listening to the radio altogether because there would be maybe one song I liked an hour. So I just started listening to tapes then CDs all the time. I wore out the cassette of my favorite Huey Lewis CD “Fore” and my favorite Paul Simon “Negotiations and Love Songs,” and since replaced them on CD. Because I haven’t a device to play vinyl records, I’ve been sporadically replacing my vinyl with used or remaindered CDs. Very rarely I’ll pay full price a second time, as I did to replace my favorite Don McLean 8 track tape I had as an 8 track when I was a teen.

I like CDs because I like being able to hold the physical media. I don’t trust the cloud, because I don’t have control of it. As the recent Rhapsody experience shows, things we have purchased can disappear at the distributor’s whim at any time. So services that give the customer digitally locked music aren’t anything I will buy into. I prefer to buy CDs, but it was much more economical to download all of Allison’ Crowe’s music at once.

Jamendo calls itself the n°1 platform for free legal music downloads, and I quite agree.   It has become my favorite music site, and I wander around there and download music so I can hear it.  There are some songs that become instant favorites, but very often my most favorite songs are the ones that grow on me through repeated listening. Back when music came on packaged on vinyl, the radio hit would lure me into buying an album, but often the B side would turn out to have the music that I grew to love the most. So I tend to listen to music a lot before I decide about it.

graphic art of a man's profile harks back to 1930's style - title text appears to be projected from his mouth

The first recordings that I fell madly for on Jamendo are from a group called Aló Django.  These guys are fabulous.  This is the group I was telling you about, where the percussion is created by the sound of the female vocalist’s dancing feet. I love this album and very much hope they do more. I tried going to their website to be able to buy a copy of their album, but I couldn’t figure out how. When you download from Jamendo you get the option of paying the artist or not; but if you’re like me and you decide if you like it, you can always go back to the page and donate via a button. One of the best things was that you don’t have to use PayPal, but can choose something called Ogone instead.

I’ve read that an estimated 25% of the music on Jamendo is Creative Commons Attribution only, which means you can use it in any way you like. The other 75% has the range of licenses up to the most restrictive, where you are only licensed to download it for personal use. I’m at the point where I won’t waste my time even listening to music that I would not be allowed to use to score a home movie, so i mostly only download music licensed CC-by or CC by-sa

website backgroundJosh Woodward‘s site has a lot of content.   He’s been engaging with fans and working to develop his music in the  public eye for quite a time.  You can read his blog, study his lyrics or download his music.

There is a page to download everything free or stream if you like.  One of the most awesome things is that he also provides all the music in instrumental versions; I listened to these when writing because the lyrics don’t get in the way of finding my own words.

If  you decide you like the music enough to want to support the possibility of more,  you can buy it from itunes,  or buy CDs.  I think his CD sales idea is brilliant… “name your own price”

My favorite Josh Woodward song right now is Let It In, possibly because of the combination of the vintage pop sound with dark lyrics. I have no doubt that this song will seep into one of my novels

Josh Woodward’s Sunny Side of the Street album is fun because of the juxtaposition of cheery music and twisted lyrics (f’rinstance, one about a stalker, “Chainsaw” Etc. 🙂

And another favorite of mine is the very sweet love song The Handyman’s Lament. I find I can put on all his music and just let it play, and it doesn’t get boring.

Arthur ~ Up To The Mountain digital album cover artI have been listening to Allison Crowe a lot since being introduced to her music while I was writing Inconstant Moon, and I just don’t get tired of her. You can find all of her CC music on Jamendo, but when she covers something like Aretha’s I never loved a man (the way I love you) or Annie’s Why she can’t CC it because of copyright law. (Annie Lennox has long been one of my favorite singer/songwriters, but I have to say I prefer Allie’s cover of Why.)

You can buy Allison Crowe’s music as CDs or as downloads in any format you like on her site, but there is also a page of covers she’s done, some just taped in her living room etc., but as far as I can tell you can only listen to these specials as streaming music.

Because Allison Crowe releases her own material CC people can use it to score home movies and not-for-profit videos, and fan compilations, which is fabulous. A song I hope to get permission to use for my Inconstant Moon book trailer is Skeletons and Spirits. I think it would suit my visuals very well, particularly because of the song’s playfully spooky undertone, tinged with the “battle of the sexes” vibe to the piece. Fingers crossed.

For me, CC downloads give me the chance to listen to music like I used to do on the radio, knowing if I want to use something to score a home movie I don’t have to worry about getting in trouble for copyright infringement. And when I find myself listening to it all the time then I can buy some.

Just going to Allison Crowe’s site just now to get you the links, I noticed that she has a new album out, I’ve been so busy with my noveling that I had no idea. Well, that’ll be a good place to spend some birthday money 🙂 ”

— exerpted from an email

I just thought this was worth sharing.

I don’t much like copyright law, but at the same time I don’t believe in breaking laws.  I think bad laws should be stopped before they are passed, or changed if they are passed anyway.

My thought is that we need to stop supporting “cultural industries” that stifle cultural expression and penalize personal sharing. I can’t stop liking the music I grew up listening to; Huey, Annie, Paul, Don… but I am less likely to stumble across their new material unless they stop releasing music under unalloyed restrictive copyright. Sharing is better.

Still, my attitude toward the copyright laws we have has been one of live and let live.   If the big and powerful culture industries choose not to change their ways, refusing to treat creators and fans substantially better to reflect the decreased costs (and increased profits) brought about by digital evolution and the Internet, that’s their business. But I don’t have to support them. I don’t have to buy their albums. Certainly not new. Maybe in the remainder bins…

Creators now have ways and means of going it alone.

The music industry has long been the worst of the “culture industries” as the distribution companies known as record labels coerced creators to hand over their copyright as the price of getting access to a wide audience.

Today’s music industry is doing amazingly well, as more artists are recording and distributing their own work independently. It’s funny, when you listen to Indie music you can tell it apart. It doesn’t all sound the same like what they play on the radio. Of course the “Music Industry” ~ in Canada the mainstream music CRIA (Canadian Recording Industry Association) recently changed it’s name to Music Canada ~ is less than thrilled with the Indie incursions.

A few years ago This Magazine published the statistic that 30% of the Canadian recording industry had gone independent. Before technical advances in equipment allowed the cost of digital production to drop through the floor and the advent of the Internet, CRIA controlled 99% of the recording Industry. So it is no wonder that they are not pleased. It is much easier to prosper with absolute control of the market.

With today’s technology, creators no longer have to give away their copyright to a corporation that may or may not make them into a star, but will deliver them into indentured servitude.

Instead of changing the way they do business, CRIA, or Music Canada, as they now want to be called, is pushing for Bill C-11, because this law will counteract the technological advances that have ushered in a cultural golden age.

Canadian DMCA logo

What Music Canada calls “piracy” — personal sharing — actually helps sell their music. Do you buy music by artists you’ve never heard? Me either.

So it doesn’t seem reasonable that they would really want to stop personal sharing. But they do. Because “piracy” makes a good excuse to pass legislation like C-11.  The “cultural industries” want to stop independent creators, because Indie creators pose the real threat to the old way of doing business.  Apparently it is easier to lobby for laws that will protect your business than to adapt your way of business to work with new technology.

The reason I oppose the passage of Bill C-11 is that I have no doubt it will lead to suppression of Independent digital content and its distribution. (See this week’s Jesse Brown Audio Podcast #116: MegaMutiny) And that will be bad for me as an independent Canadian creator, but even worse for Canadian culture.

In the meantime, I’ve been taking tons of photos of holiday decorations for years…. I’m sure there is a Christmas video in there somewhere… just as I’m sure a track from Allie’s “Tidings” would make a good score 🙂

note: I’ve made a few copyedit tweaks for grammar, not content

Yesterday was Christopher Plummer’s birthday, and I found myself writing this Christopher Plummer and Copyright a Tumblr. post.

CC is for Creator’s Choice

I am amazed at how quickly technology has progressed to the point where we have the tools to inexpensively create and share all types of media.   I think we may be at the point where the most expensive aspect of creating a piece of artistic media is the human labour.   When I went to school for Media Arts (film, video, audio, a/v) that certainly was not the case. The equipment was expensive: we could sign out Nagra sync sound recorders that I recall cost a great many thousands of dollars, particularly for struggling students. But the cost of Film stock was very very expensive.


Which is why I was so incredibly impressed with filmmaker Robert Rodriguez‘ Cinderella tale of becoming a feature film director. His ingenuity allowed him to make El Mariachi for much less than the going rate of making a movie trailer.

film maker Robert Rodriguez in stubble, camo & a baseball cap at a press function

Rebel without a Crew: Or How a 23-Year-Old Filmmaker With $7,000 Became a Hollywood Player was terrific.  Not just because the book is as well written a “making of” as you’re likely to find, but because young Rodriguez figured out how to become a feature film maker by thinking outside the box. He bypassed the crushing weight of the most expensive part of film making: the cost of film stock and prints for distribution.

[Even cooler, Rodriguez was willing to talk about it and share his insights with other filmmakers in an attempt to help those coming after.]

As it happens, the digital revolution which followed substantially lowered the barriers to entry and today digital imaging is the next thing to free. Movie theaters are switching to digital transmission for the same reasons.

[Note to filmmakers: You can still learn lots about film making from Robert Rodriguez’ Film School Shorts.]


The singers squeezed into the control booth dominated by a massive mixing board, manned by sound technicians.

It used to cost tens of thousands or perhaps even hundreds of thousands of dollars to outfit a music recording studio.  So naturally cutting a record was a pricey affair.

Once all the tracks were laid down and mixed you had the associated costs of artwork, pressing and distribution. An expensive proposition.

But just like the film world, media technology has gone digital and today, if you’re organized, it is possible to cut a full length commercial CD in a professional studio for around a thousand dollars. A tech savvy musician can DIY commercial quality product in their basement for next to nothing.

the written word

Big changes are afoot in the world of newspapers and magazines.   It used to be that the only market for short fiction and nonfiction articles used to be newspapers and magazines (with the occasional second life collected in book form). Like the music and movie industries, magazines and newspapers were in business by virtue of owning the infrastructure (print facilities and distribution).

Syd Field Screenplay ORIGINAL cover art

The same was true of book publication. Certainly publishers have editorial staff. They employ readers and editors and typesetters. One of the best books I’ve read on screenwriting was written by Syd Field, a Hollywood reader who distilled what he learned as a reader into practical writing advice in a book called Screenplay.

The editorial staff edits and assembles the product. One important function they have traditionally provided was to filter out the very best material.  And never forget that the addition of editorial input often improved the work.   Traditionally there has been lots of expertise in the publishing industry, but the bottom line was always that the guy who owns the presses and the distribution network is the guy in charge. The most brilliant book editor could always be over ruled by the publisher. (Or the publisher’s girlfriend.)

There is great deal of turmoil in all types of publishing today as the entire world has been altered by the Internet and the accompanying technology.

media evolution

In real terms this media revolution– not just for film or music but photography, writing, software and art– really anything that can be digitally reproduced — has made it possible for pretty much anyone to be a media creator. The monetary costs involved boil down to the initial outlay necessary for equipment and digital storage. After that the outlay is minimal

I remember when a blank video tape cost $20. That could hold one movie you taped off TV.   Of course that was back in the day when the cable companies encouraged Canadians to use this new technology to “time shift.” Today that’s one of the many diverse activities that are lumped together under the umbrella label of ‘piracy.’

The Nightengale and the Rose - One of the many public domain books preserved in a digital format and released without restriction by Project Gutenberg

About ten years ago or so I remember my sister had an unimaginably huge hard drive – far and away the largest of anyone I knew — on her computer. Today that 2 gigabyte drive is laughably tiny. At this point 2 gigabyte flash drives are routinely used to transport assignments between school and home (and probably at the low end).

And now I just read Michael Hart‘s observation about his seventy five dollar “terabyte pocket drive” (for books digitized by Project Gutenberg) that is:

no larger and not much heavier than a book, and it will hold 2.5 million such books in .zip format.”

Project Gutenberg: Timeline Events

One of the interesting things I’ve learned about recently from Wayne Borean’s excellent series on Copyright in his Through the Looking Glass blog, where Wayne describes this kind of revolutionary technology that changes the way the world functions as a “Disruptive Technological Change“.

Add the Internet to the mix and you have a perfect distribution medium that’s virtually free.
[With the proviso that net neutrality is protected Internet access won’t be degraded via ‘throttling’ and and carrier/ISPs won’t be able to price it out of the range of ordinary people with Usage Based Billing.]

This means we’re living in a world where we can all create.

Under Canadian copyright law any art we create is automatically protected under copyright law.

Since we all have the ability to be both content creators and distributors as well as content consumers, every citizen needs to have a say in the copyright debate and the eventual revision to our copyright laws.

Copyright = All Rights Reserved

copyright symbol - letter c in a circle
all rights reserved

The thing about art and culture is that it is for sharing.   I can’t think of any art in any medium that is created out of a vacuum. Everything is built on something else. This has been going on since the beginning of time.   Before we had written words, verbal histories were handed down.

We are all informed by our culture; all creators are influenced by others.   Everything we learn, everything we see, hear, feel and touch goes into our experience pool and will have an effect on our creations.    Shakespeare’s plays are re-mixes of other works,  and today we would call the Brothers Grimm Fairy Tale aggregators.    In their day they had to physically travel all aver Europe to gather up all the best stories.   Today we just need a good search engine and enough bandwidth to get it done.

Teacher Raffaella Traniello holds up some movie making tools A standing joke firmly rooted in reality is that the only way to sell a movie idea to Hollywood is by comparing it to another.

And have you ever noticed that an overwhelming majority of Disney theatrical feature films are based on stories in the public domain?

Corporate agendas have been pushing for increasingly rigorous copyright law, detrimental to creators.   What’s good for a corporation that controls copyright is not necessarily good for the artists who created the copyright work. As a creator I think copyright terms we have alone in Canada are seriously detrimental to creators.

Creative Commons logoWhich is why I am extremely grateful for the development of Creative Commons Licenses that offer creators a variety of alternatives.

Creative Commons licensing is a marvelous tool that allows creators to get around the detrimental and restrictive aspects of copyright law. Creators can release their work in the way that they want to.

The reason I love Raffaella Traniello’s film so much is  because it does such a good job getting the message across.   Every song I’ve heard, every movie I’ve watched, every picture I’ve seen, every bit of  art I’ve ever been exposed to, everything that has danced across my senses has been absorbed and makes me who I am.   The creativity of others has become part of my life experience, and as it’s distilled through my unconscious and forms the basis of my own creativity.   No art comes out of a vacuum;  it collaborates with a culture.  Art needs to share and be shared, which is why I believe that the current copyright law has already gone too far.

Creative Commons License = Some Rights Reserved

Creative Commons logo: cc inside a circle
Some Rights Reserved

Creative Commons defines the spectrum of possibilities between full copyright and the public domain. From all rights reserved to no rights reserved. Our licenses help you keep your copyright while allowing certain uses of your work — a “some rights reserved” copyright.

What is CC

Copyright terms constrain other creators.

I try to generate all the images for all my own blogs, but sometimes that simply isn’t possible.   At this point with everything that’s happening in copyright law around the world, I’m less inclined to want to use “fair dealing” images; particularly as what is covered may well change.  So any time I do an image search,  I search for Creative Commons licensed Images. When searching either Google Images or Flickr Images you can select “advanced search” and choose “labeled for reuse”. Most if not all images in Wikimedia Commons are released under a CC license. And now the Creative Commons search page can direct your searches as well.

Creative Commons Attribution Symbol

Attribution (cc by)

This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered, in terms of what others can do with your works licensed under Attribution.

Creative Commons Attribution Sharealike Symbol

Attribution Share Alike (cc by-sa)

This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial reasons, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. This license is often compared to open source software licenses. All new works based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use.

Boy Mouse says to Mouse girl who is fixing equipment, Hallo Fräulein, könnten Sie mich wohl zu einem Techniker bringen?

Creative Commons Attribution No Derivatives

Attribution No Derivatives (cc by-nd)

This license allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to you.


Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial

Attribution Non-Commercial (cc by-nc)

This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.

CD cover art - bearded guitar playing caricature

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Sharealike

Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike (cc by-nc-sa)

This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. Others can download and redistribute your work just like the by-nc-nd license, but they can also translate, make remixes, and produce new stories based on your work. All new work based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also be non-commercial in nature.

Plaster heads of 7 world leaders assembled on the grass

Creative Commons Button indicating Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivative License

Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives (cc by-nc-nd)

This license is the most restrictive of our six main licenses, allowing redistribution. This license is often called the “free advertising” license because it allows others to download your works and share them with others as long as they mention you and link back to you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.

Creative Common Licenses don’t replace copyright law, they work in conjunction with existing copyright law.

A Creative Commons licenses allow creators to tailor the license to balance their comfort level with the needs of their project.

The greatest thing about Creative Commons Licensing is that it gives choices back to creators.

Image Credit:

Robert Rodriguez photograph under a Attribution Sharealike ( by Thomas Crenshaw

Lynn Russwurm’s photograph “The Laurie Bauer Singers in recording studio – circa 1970s” used with permission

Raffaella Traniello video under an Attribuzione 2.5 Italia license

Charles Robinson illustration of Oscar Wilde’s “The Nightengale and the Rose” is in the public domain; one of many great works preserved via digitization by Project Gutenberg

Cory Doctorow” photograph by Joi Ito under a CC attribution (cc by) license

Sita Sings the BluesNina Paley – Creative Commons CC BY-SA

“Hallo Fräulein” cartoon oreillyblog cartoon (CC) BY-ND dyfa 2009

Ahead Stop image by XKCD. CC BY-NC 2.5

Performous Songs: Jonathan Coulton Collection available for legal download ZIP file (240 MB)under Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike License (cc by-nc-sa) via Performous Songs

“Big Heads” aka The Oxfam G8 Big Heads at Big Letters Performance by Oxfam (by-nc-nd)

Personal Use Copying vs. Bootlegging

Star Wars Movie Poster

Today there is only one first run movie theatre chain in the whole of Canada, so even the most successful movies only play for a matter of weeks.

But back in the 1970’s there was still competition among Canadian movie theatres so Star Wars actually played on Canadian movie screens for over a year. When the first Star Wars movie was released I was so caught up in it that I ended up going out to see it in a variety of movie theatres thirteen times during that first year.

I am a huge Star Wars fan.

I bought all the Star Wars merchandise that I could afford. In those days there were no DVDs or downloads. VCRs had just come on the market and they were prohibitively expensive.

So at first those of us who were not indescribably wealthy had to content ourselves with purchasing vinyl record albums that ran at 33 1/3rd rpm on an old fashioned machine called a record player. I bought the music in the form of the John Williams Star Wars soundtrack album, as well as a record called “The Story of Star Wars”, a synopsis of the story narrated by C3PO with audio clips from the film. To this day any time I hear the 20th Century Fox music tag I flash on the “real” Star Wars opening.

And today the George Lucas’s Star Wars empire continues to make money in new ways. I don’t have a problem with that. It is a business after all.

I still love Star Wars, particularly the first one. And this article in no way intends any disrespect. I’m telling you about my connection with Star Wars because the incredible success that Star Wars had makes it a good example. That, and because Star Wars was the very first videotape movie I saw played on a VCR in a private home.

What I really want to do today (besides procrastinate from working on my NaNoWriMo novel) is to look at personal use copying as a copyright infringement issue.

The Copyright Lobby makes no distinction between commercial bootleggers who distribute illegal copies for profit and legal purchasers who seek to make a back-up copy or digital format shift for personal use. Because they insist it is all the same thing, the Copyright Lobby has been pressuring governments the world over in an attempt to criminalize personal use copying.

I think there is a problem with the terminology here because calling both things by the same name is horribly misleading. Both activities involve digital copying, but that is where the similarity ends. Just as apples and oranges are both fruit but they are really not the same at all.

apples and oranges

applesOne thing the Copyright Lobby calls “piracy” would be more accurately called “Bootlegging”. Bootleg music recordings have been around as long as audio recording technology has existed. People have smuggled recording devices into concerts and made copies which they have then sold around the world. There have also been professional bootleggers who have copied recorded music and repackaged it to sell illegally. These activities have resulted in lost revenue for music distributors, and in fact should be illegal.

orangesThe other thing the Copyright Lobby calls “piracy” is what I call “Personal use copying”. This covers a much wider range of activities, but the chief defining factor of personal use copying is the fact that this digital copying is not for profit. Rather than resulting in lost revenue for distributors, personal use copying relieves the burden of format shifting from the manufacturer to the consumer. When shared through p2p networks personal use copying serves as a means of promoting these commercial products in the same way that radio and television broadcasts have done under the traditional business model. This type of copying should be legal.

The Copyright Lobby’s effort to criminalize this type of copying simply alienates the customer base. Like DRM or SOC methods, it does absolutely nothing to stem the flow of bootlegging.

When did the idea of ownership change?

It used to be that when you bought something you owned it. You were free to do with it what you liked. Even if it was something covered under copyright law… like a book, you were entitled to read that book as many times as you wanted to.

  • You could loan it to a friend.
  • You could quote from it in an essay
  • You could read it aloud to your blind grandmother.

And at the end of the day it was still your book. Unless you decided you no longer wanted it, at which time you could legally sell it to a used book store.

Now lets look at what’s been happening so far in the information age. Manufacturers of recorded music and movies have their materials covered under copyright. They want us to not make copies for our own personal use, even though we have paid them the price they ask.

Personal use copying is not the same thing as bootlegging for commercial gain.

The Problem

Original Star Wars Betamax videotape
When videotape and VCRs first came on the market, it cost on the order of $100 to purchase Star Wars (I refer to the “real” Star Wars movie… back in the days of ancient history when there was only one which was simply called Star Wars… “Star Wars Episode One” did not yet exist).


If you purchased Star Wars in the Sony Betamax version back then, you would have found yourself out of luck a few short years later when Sony stopped making Betamax VCRs. When your Betamax machine became inoperable, you could no longer buy a new one, which of course rendered the tape you purchased in good faith unplayable. No one warned the unfortunate consumers that invested in Betamax tapes and Betamax equipment. I never heard of anyone getting refunds from the movie companies. Or the MPAA. Or Sony. Etc.

Star Wars on VHS
So now the copy of the Star Wars movie is no longer playable. Obviously, you thought that you would be able to keep playing that movie whenever you wanted to for the rest of your life. The same way that you will be able read your paperback copy of Anne of Green Gables as many times as you like for as long as you live.


Now you can’t. So what do you do if you really loved Star Wars?

You go out and buy it again. This time on VHS.

The rest of your life, eh? I know that’s what I thought. Didn’t you?

Did Twentieth Century Fox ever offer to reimburse you for the useless hunk of plastic and tape (that you have now purchased twice for your own use) that is now deteriorating? And suddenly it’s near impossible to buy a new VHS machine because there is yet another new technology– now movies are on DVD. Even if you can find a new VHS machine, we’ve all learned that a VCR will be lucky to last for five years anyway. And of course the VCRs you can find now are far more expensive than DVD players. So what’s a fan to do. Oh right.

You go out and buy Star Wars again on DVD.

Star Wars on DVD

[Of course, this particular example is extra irritating because George Lucas hasn’t stopped tinkering with the thing, and since he’s vowed to never release the REAL version (the one that actually played in theatres in 1977) on DVD, so I will never have the version I want no matter how many times I’ve paid for it. *sigh*]

But you’re a fan.

So you go out and buy the movie AGAIN on DVD.

At least you have it in a form that will last.

Now HD is gone too.

Or not.

Because then along came HD DVD.  The media manufacturers were a little surprised that we didn’t all rush out and buy HD machines.

Replacing our entire video library. AGAIN.

Oh… you were one of those suckers who got conned into converting to bought into HD? Ooooops!  Didn’t anyone tell you that the technology you were supposed to back was Blu-Ray?

I could go through the same process to look at the parallels in the music industry: piano rolls, gramophone cylinders, ’78’s, LPs, 8 track tapes, cassette tapes and CDS… all over the course of a single century.

Funny, I have a working gramophone older than I am which will play ’78’s. Yet our modern day electronic equipment will be doing well to work after a decade.

I don’t know about you but I am tired of buying the same movies over and over again.

Copyright is an agreement between the creator/manufacturer and the consumer.

The media distributors have NOT kept their part of the bargain, expecting consumers to pay for the same material over and over again. It should be legal to be able to watch the movie you have purchased in good faith as many times as we want to, for the rest of our lives.

Consumers have not been given any protection by governments the world over.

At the very minimum customers need to be given the right to copy the products they have purchased onto the piece of technology needed to play it.

We believe we own what we have purchased.
They want us to believe that we don’t.

Fortunately our government representatives are in an excellent position to look out for the Canadian consumer interests as they redraft our copyright law for the benefit of Canadians.

[At last: my copycon submission made it to the copyright consultation website.]