For over a year now, I've been trying to work out the politics of the current copyright fight. Specifically, what do your views on copyright say about your political leanings? It should be no surprise to anyone deep in this discussion that there is no easy answer to that question. This posting will not even try for an answer, but I will do some, hopefully, interesting analysis of the rhetoric. Interesting for me, anyway. It's my blog after all.
So let's start with some political disclosure -- not that long ago I made a speech at an NDP nomination meeting in the Etobicoke Lakeshore riding. My main goal there was to stimulate the federal election campaign in my own neighbourhood and make sure the parachuting Michael Ignatieff was not simply handed the Parliamentary seat. Nothing personal, Mr. Ignatieff. There was a very real risk that I would actually win the nomination and have to run as an NDP candidate against Ignatieff. I didn't particularly want to be a candidate, for all sorts of good, personal reasons, but it was a risk I was willing to take for the cause of democratic process. So that's me. Solid NDP and Liberal roots. Do Charlie Angus (NDP critic on copyright reform) and I agree on copyright? Still to be determined, but I can't say much for the NDP's politicking on the "made in the U.S.A copyright legislation" so far. Ugh, grandstanding.
Last week, I found myself writing a blog posting partly in defense of Conservative Industry Minister Jim Prentice -- also, in my opinion, for the cause of democratic process. Alright then.
Today, the Financial Post has published an article labeling Dr. Michael Geist's movement The Telecom Trotskyites -- this criticism seemingly based on the nearness of the word commons to communism. That suggests, of course, that the good (or bad, depending on your own leanings) lefty position on copyright is for "fair" copyright, as defined by the anti-Canadian DMCA message of recent days. The good lefty online journal rabble.ca seems to support this leftish lean -- see Wayne Macphail's piece on copyright, previously blogged about here. Certainly, Macphail's piece, and much of the rhetoric on the Fair Copyright Facebook Group wall contains that key element of good Canadian leftyness -- anti-Americanism. American copyright, stay away from me -- Macphail's title plays on (thanks to fair dealing) the old Guess Who song American Woman (side point -- hasn't Randy Bachman been in actual legal disputes to reasonably protect his own copyright?). Michael Geist, just last night on Strombo, suggested that Canadian copyright lobbyists are mere mouthpieces for American corporations.
Okay, so where are we now? Good lefties in Canada are against American-style aggressive copyright and American corporations, and are for "fair" copyright (as yet to be defined).
Except, the good lefty online journal Straight Goods picked up some of my blog writing in support of strong copyright for artists and professional creators, suggesting they might just think a bit differently from their fellow lefties over at rabble.
As well, part of the current "fair" copyright push is the position that Canada should adopt the American bundle of access and use provisions called Fair Use over Canada's existing bundle called Fair Dealing -- so the anti-American stick is one that apparently only swings in one direction. The American model is unconscionably evil, except when we really like it.
It gets weirder, and ever more muddled.
Good lefty, Charlie Angus posted the file sharing proposal of the Songwriters Association of Canada onto the Facebook group Fair Copyright for Canada. This proposal's preface runs like this:
The plan we propose would not change or interfere with the way Canadians receive their music. No one would be sued for the online sharing of songs. On the contrary, the sharing of music on Peer-to-Peer networks and similar technologies would become perfectly legal. In addition, Music Publishers and Record Labels would be fairly compensated for the crucial role they play in supporting Canadian music creators.
I believe Angus posted this proposal hoping to find some middle ground. He is, after all, a songwriter himself and has made income from the copyright on his songs. For the record, I love his songs. And how did the proposal fare in the group? Well, there was some support, but there were also some less than enthusiastic responses, and the logic in those responses has bearing on this discussion. One response in particular likens the proposal to a music tax, and the commenter complains that he does not use enough music to justify paying the tax. I've heard the same argument against the blank media levy -- I don't rip music onto my CDs, so why should I pay a levy for uses I will not take advantage of? Now, there are all sorts of ways I disagree with that logic, but that's not the point.
The point is -- where else on the political spectrum do we see this kind of anti-taxation, I-only-want-to-pay-for-what-I-use sort of logic? Well, um, here in fact (the US Republican Party). Why should I pay such high property tax in Toronto if I don't choose to use the schools, transit or community service? I should only pay for what I use? User payments... user payments... where have I heard that before? Oh yeah, here (Mike Harris' Common Sense Revolution).
With this in mind, I can't help noticing as well that one of the main thrusts in this current struggle is consumer rights. I've bought something; I should be able to do with it what I like. Trotskyites for the consumer? Wha?
The anti-DRM and anti-TPM thrust is really about individual property rights. Both good lefties and good righties believe that no one should be able to come into your home and put a lock on your stuff. But shouldn't both left and right also oppose someone breaking your own personal locks and taking your stuff? I would hope so.
Overwhelmingly, despite the rampant anti-Americanism and the appeal to "the commons," the recent "fair" copyright protest, to me, resembles the "We the people..." and "pursuit of happiness" appeal to unfettered individual freedom rooted in the beginnings of the United States of America. There it is before us, an endless online vista and we are individuals in a vast untapped continent of common wealth. Do we dump all our iPods in the harbour -- sorry, harbor -- and throw off the shackles of the old world?
Okay, then what? Well, then, perhaps we will all live in the beautiful little town of Deadwood, without all those annoying laws and taxes and limits on our individual freedoms. Yeah... Deadwood. Good times.
Happy Holidays all! My blogging will be sporadic for awhile as I reflect on peace and goodwill toward all mankind.
PS -- I note that Michael Geist has posted today clearly in support of a Royal Commission or some such. I recognize that he has said it before, but it is worth having a look at his posting just to see all those names aligned together on this call. Well done.
Maybe Christmas, he thought, means a little bit more.