Hey, I see an act to amend the copyright act is on the order paper for Parliament today. So, I didn't miss much on my week away from the wars. That's good, because I've had a shocking realization.
I spent most of last week across the border in the United States, researching and writing a novel partly set there. Buffalo, NY -- is there a prettier city between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario? I don't think so.
Still, I had not realized just how horrible a toll the American Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) has taken on that country. Last Wednesday, the streets of Buffalo flooded with water and ice jams from the Niagara River, decades old pine trees fell all over the city, power lines collapsed leaving tens of thousands without electricity on one of the coldest days of the year. What caused all this? The DMCA. It must have, yeah, since it's the symbol of all that is evil and corporate in the world these days.
I had hoped for calmer rhetoric on my return. Oh well. Now I just hope Prentice's Act today does not contain the letters DMC and A in that order, because I don't think I can spend another day dodging power lines and trees.
So, what in the rhetoric saddens me today? I'll focus on two things:
First The Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC) released a statement on what they'd like to see in the Copyright Act. This is their right, and strangely, I feel no need to question whether or not CMEC truly represents to folks they claim to represent in this statement. I'm pretty sure they do represent the majority opinion in their sector. Hell some of what they say represents my opinion well, and I disagree with them.
Take this part, for instance (the first sentence):
In the federal government’s attempt to modernize our country’s copyright laws, it must address the educational use of the Internet.
Couldn't agree more. Yay CMEC. Unfortunately, after that, it gets a bit murky:
Teachers, students, and schools — elementary, secondary, colleges, and universities — need an amendment to the Copyright Act allowing them to use material on the Internet that is publicly available for anyone to use, without being afraid they are breaking the law.
The problem with this statement is that it's not true. No amendment is necessary. Teachers, students and schools have all sorts of existing provisions under copyright for use of material on the Internet. In this way, they are no different from any other citizen, including artists, who all enjoy the same provisions. Furthermore, when educational institutions sign license agreements with copyright collectives like Access Copyright, they then also gain the right for use above and beyond the standard provisions -- commercial use, such as planned curriculum, is completey covered by a simple and affordable license that guarantees the creators of the work are paid for that use. Keep in mind, students pay a tuition fee (or taxes through their parents in the case of K-12) for these materials, and teachers are paid to deliver them. The licensing and delivery structure already exists. No amendments are necessary. All that is required is that CMEC agree that part of their educational budgets should go to paying original creators for the planned classroom use of their work.
They clearly do not agree on that point, since they propose that any creator who does not want their work used without compensation by the educational sector, should lock it away from the public on the Internet or exempt it from use in schools:
rights holders can opt out of the amendment by using passwords or technology that limits access or use of the Internet material. Rights holders can also opt out by informing Internet users that the material cannot be used for educational purposes.
CMEC writes books, magazines, and even e-mail messages, are automatically protected by copyright by the simple acting (sic) of creating them as though this is a bad or restrictive thing. Me, I celebrate the "automatic" nature of copyright as an important individual right in our society. Planned educational use of anything -- blackboards, teachers, chairs, carpeting, and yes, unlocked material on the Internet, should be paid use. Rather than expecting professional artists and creators to subsidize educational budgets, we should all be asking for government to give our educational system higher budgets. On the Parent Council at my kids' school, I raise the budget point all the time. You should too.
My second concern today is that the CCC statement, researched and written in good faith by duly constituted and governed professional associations of professional artists is being attacked not just on the merits of its recommendations, which would be a valid and "fair" attack. Instead, for some reason I simply can't fathom, the "fair-minded" rhetoricians who disagree with the CCC are questioning that group's authority to speak for its members, and in one really quite low and disturbing swipe, it is suggested that presumably enlightened artists storm the Parliaments of these groups and overthrow them in the name of "fairness."
If you are in this sector, you are likely a member of one or more of these groups. They are doing this lobbying in your name. Ideal would be if the members of these associations took over the executives to ensure that they lobbied for more forward-facing policies that embraced rather than tried to harm new media.
Interestingly, it is the members of these organizations who currently populate their executives. Merely suggesting otherwise don't make it so.
40,000 Facebook clickers = an authoritative and clear-headed protest movement.
Groups representing upwards of 100,000 working, professional artists who have a real economic interest in copyright reform = a cabal of evildoers performing evil in their members' names.
You know who I blame for this nasty political turn in the argument? The DMCA.