C-11 ~ Copyright: Fallacy #2

“Wasn’t the whole purpose of copyright to allow artists, musicians, and authors to make a living?”


Well…. No.

Although the privilege of copyright was granted to writers (and later extended to other creators), they had a very limited ability to make copies.  A writer could copy the manuscript by hand and sell copies to anyone they met.  The printers had the expertise and the control of the expensive equipment, so right from the start the creators were disadvantaged, writers had no choice but to assign this “right” to the distributors.

Although the supposed justification for copyright is to allow creators to make a living, in practice the monopoly allowed the Stationers (or Booksellers, Printers, Publishers &tc.) to generate revenue and control publishing.  Copyright succeeded so well for so long by giving the appearance of existing to benefit the creators.   Creator support ensures that the market – the audience – honours copyright.

As time went on, creators wound up with ever decreasing power over this supposed privilege, while the distributors — now called publishers — accrued more and greater power, which they used to dictate terms to creators.  The problem was that printing was only part of it; the distribution network was the other side of the equation.

More and more of our cultural pursuits have come under the “protection” of copyright.   The music recording industry is the worst for creators, as many (most?) musicians were forced to give up their copyright in order to secure a recording contract.  For all but the biggest stars, the effect is to  thrust most recording artists into indentured servitude.   Because of this, more and more musicians choose the independence now possible with affordable recordings and Internet distribution.  Before the Internet, CRIA controlled the recording industry in Canada; but 30% of the Canadian Industry was independent by 2010. It isn’t piracy that threatens the legacy distributors, it’s competition.

In today’s Canada we also have a proliferation of copyright collectives which have devolved onto yet another “middleman” with a hand in the copyright till.

The only way for creators to access the funds owing them as a result of the copyright monopoly is by way of copyright collectives, which is why copyright collectives lobby for stronger, longer copyright.

Perhaps initially these collectives actually represented the interests of creators, but judging from the lobbying they engage in today, it seems pretty clear these collectives are primarily interested in their own needs.

Making it appear that copyright benefits the creators is a great way to have creators support

Both the technological revolution ushered in by plummeting copying costs and the Internet threaten the corporations and copyright collectives.   Corporate interests want to regain absolute control of their industries while copyright collectives want to regain absolute control of their respective workforce.  Both are threatened with obsolescence due to  rapid growth of independent creators that threaten the old fashioned business models.

In response to this threat both special interest groups have been lobbying governments around the world to use legislative means to turn back the hands of time.   Canada’s draft copyright legislation new copyright legislation will vest absolute power in Technological Protection Measures (TPMs) and give in to these demands with Bill C-11, which is ironically called “The Copyright Modernization Act.”

There is Still Time to Say “No”

[This is the second in my C-11 Copyright Series. Canada’s majority government is poised to pass Bill C-11, the co-called “Copyright Modernization Act” in spite of unprecedented Canadian opposition. The tragedy is most Canadians are unaware of copyright issues and don’t yet realize the growing impact it exerts over our daily lives.

This is the second in my C-11 Copyright Series:


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.

creators fight back

Creative Commons logo

Just thought you might like to know that I’m not the only weird creator who thinks the idea of copyright needs some help here. So I thought I’d share a few important links:

In Locus Magazine Cory Doctorow explains Why I Copyfight [Cory Doctorow licenses his books under Creative Commons.]

A blog called Techrisk (The vulnerable information society) Mathias Klang has published a list of books released under Creative Commons licensing cc books.

My brother Larry Russwurm’s blog post this week uses/reviews a creative commons licensed cartoon making software in Playing With Bitstrips.

From May 16th, 2000 Salon.com has an unedited transcript of Courtney Love’s speech to the Digital Hollywood online entertainment conference about the record industry Courtney Love does the math

And on her own website, you can read terrifically talented singer/songwriter Janis Ian‘s stunning article the THE INTERNET DEBACLE – AN ALTERNATIVE VIEW

Sita stands in Copyright jail

But the best is from Nina Paley’s Sita Sings the Blues Webpage. because Nina Paley’s explanation of why she had to use the music she did drives home precisely how the changes made to copyright law over the past decades actually impede the creation of art. Because most of us aren’t as brave as Nina Paley.

Most of us make the changes required by copyright law.

Real or imagined or feared, because we don’t have the time or energy or money to fight lawsuits or pay extortionate amounts of money to use the creative works of artists that should have been in the public domain. We just want to make art.

And that is bad for art, bad for culture. For all of us.

Thanks to Adrian du Plessis for directing me to Janis Ian
Thanks to Jonathan Fritz for directing me to the Courtney Love piece