digEcon backstory (Bill C-32)

[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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    Free Culture, Copyright and Open Video

    StopUBB logoUsually I deal with highly politicized computer issues in my StopUBB blog, which has evolved from only fighting against Canadian implementation of Usage Based Billing but has spread out to fight against insidious secret copyright treaties like A.C.T.A. while trying to educate ordinary people about the related issues of Net Neutrality and Internet Freedom.

    Those who are attempting to subvert the Internet so they can control and leash it have long been using copyright as an excuse to do these things. I have been learning a lot about computer issues through StopUBB research. But there are many people who have been grappling with the future of the Internet long before I had a clue that there were even issues.

    One of these people is Lawrence Lessig a big proponent of “Free Culture” and reduced copyright. Not only was Lessig one of the a founder of Creative Commons licensing movement, he was also involved in the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Harvard‘s Berkman Center for Internet & Society

    Lawrence Lessig delivering a lecture

    Copyright symbol with maple leaf

    in the wind is my personal blog. Since I’m a writer a big part of my life is writing, so when I write about any aspect of writing it goes here. So even though copyright plays an important part in StopUBB issues, this is where I write about it from a reader and writer’s point of view.

    twitter logo

    Yesterday I learned from Twitter that there was going to be a LIVE! Wireside Chat with Lawrence Lessig at Harvard Law School I played hooky from writing Inconstant Moon to tune in, although I only caught the last part of his lecture, the main thrust was that the bad guys can look after themselves, its time that the good guys (that’s you and me, pal) stepped up to the plate to stop corruption and make government start working for the people again.

    After the lecture there was a question and answer session with questions provided in a live Twitter feed which dealt with culture, copyright and ReMix.

    These are some of the Lessig quotes tweeted by audience
    which in itself made the lecture into a remix:
    shapah “we need a culture that makes it as easy to hack hardware as it does content” #wireside #lessig

    PPirataMx Necesitamos una cultura que permita “hackear” dispositivos de la misma forma que se “hackea” el contenido. #lessig #wireside

    EveBottando “There’s something tone deaf about Apple. Their sharing site is Me.com..whatdyamean Me.com – it should be We.com.” #wireside

    shapah Brazil again! points of light – “they teach kids to tear machines down and rebuild them” #wireside

    ericschnell RT @sameerverma: “Stallman was right to call it free software” – lessig #wireside

    ezufelt #wireside chat w/ @lessig was good, disappointing that it was not captioned and that videos were not described. #accessibility

    shapah non-commercial CC licensing is an experiment to enable this new way of thinking #wireside #lessig

    shapah “free culture is the right way to think about – setting the right boundaries, setting the widest spread” #wireside

    EveBottando “Britney Spears model – produce and control culture…another culture that doesn’t limit…depends on building and sharing freely” #wireside

    blogdiva RT @dsearls: @Lessig: “The government has produced the least efficient property system known to man.” At #wireside

    shapah “how long do copyright terms need to be?” 21 years? #lessig would settle for 50 as long as it couldn’t be extended #wireside

    moon Larry #Lessig “never should you be allowed to extend an existing copyright” #wireside

    After the Q&A concluded, I learned a bit about the The Open Video Alliance, the group who put on this lecture. Of course, my learning curve in all this is enormous; today is the first time that I had even heard of them. Open Video held a contest for 60 second films to explain and illustrate the idea of open video to raise awareness of the importance of this cultural art form. They screened the winning videos, but this one was my favorite.

    Teacher Raffaella Traniello holds up some movie making tools
    Raffaella Traniello is an excellent teacher.   With simplicity and breathtaking clarity her video makes the point:

    EVERYTHING IS A REMIX

     

    You can find the other open video submissions available for download at http://contest.openvideoalliance.org/?l=en

    Visit the site and check out the films online. You are free to download them in a variety of formats from OGG to MPEG4.   Raffaella’s film is in Italian but there are English subtitles available– the words are important– for mono-lingual anglophones like myself.

    I could not figure out how to embed the Raffaella’s Traniello video here, so I took a peek at YouTube to see if it was there. I didn’t find it, instead I found this interview. Although I don’t speak a word of Italian, I loved the opportunity to see some of the films this amazing teacher has made with her students. You go girl.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cc2WX06Ovzc

    It seems that videos posted on YouTube can be easily embedded here in my WordPress blog, but videos found in other places, like The Open Video Alliance and the Canada’s NFB (National Film Board of Canada) can not be posted here, even though it would not violate any copyright laws to do so.

    As if by magic my friend Malcolm sent me a link to this amazing live interactive ReMix:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7EYAUazLI9k&annotation_id=annotation_72265&feature=iv

    I am curious now as to whether license fees were paid to use the music in this performance art.

    I think it was Lawrence Lessig who suggested that copyright law needs to be straightforward enough that children can use any cultural material they are exposed to in any way with impunity.

    Unfortunately what is happening today is the heavy handed application if new IP laws that serve to frighten many educators and schools away from using these technologies to help educate our children. After all, this is a world of D.M.C.A. takedowns and A.C.T.A.

    And that’s not right.