Yesterday afternoon, I sent this open letter to the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, and copied it to the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. This is the full letter as sent, but I have removed personal info for BCCLA contacts (you can look them up yourself):
I am writing with concern over the BCCLA’s recently adopted position paper on Bill C-61, the federal government’s Act to Amend the Copyright Act. I feel the paper is unbalanced and prejudiced against the rights of creators and copyright holders in the consideration of digital copyright matters. Furthermore, I worry that the BCCLA has been hasty in adopting the opinion of only one side of what is essentially a three-way discussion. The fullness of creator concerns is missing from your adopted position.
Copyright reform is a complex topic that has caused a great deal of confusion and inspired an unfortunate amount of misinformation in the public discussion. The most simplistic interpretation of the issue frames reform as a fight between powerful and domineering corporate interests and the ‘little guy’ consumer. While this characterization is one element of the broader reform picture, it does not represent a comprehensive understanding of what is at stake – especially from a civil liberties perspective.
The individual citizen’s relationship to copyright law is not as either creator or user. It is as both, simultaneously and often with little obvious distinction. The already present exceptions to copyright (fair dealing, personal use, private study) are very important civil liberties that must be protected. They are the very foundations of our free press, our freedom of expression and our freedom of education.
But these civil liberties are necessarily tied to the equally important civil liberty of personal ownership and control over one’s own creativity. When individuals lose significant care and control over their creative works, either through state intervention or unchecked consumerism, creative freedom itself is threatened. It is for this reason, presumably, that the United Nations linked these two important rights under Article 27 of their Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
(1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.
(2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.
The Fair Copyright for Canada position paper your organization has adopted focuses on the issue of digital locks (TPMs and/or DRM) as it appears in the tabled Bill C-61. I do not believe the full effect of the digital lock provisions in
C-61 has been sufficiently clarified by the Bill as written, and I agree with your position that we all need clarification about how digital locks would work in relation to existing user rights and exceptions. I think this will be an important focus of the Parliamentary debate, committee discussion and amendment process.
On the other hand, originating as it does from a recognized consumer lobby group whose very public aim is to see Bill C-61 defeated, I feel your position contributes to a prejudging and interruption of these important democratic processes. At the very least, a civil libertarian position needs to balance the now standard attacks on corporate excess with recognition that the vast majority of rights holders under copyright are individual citizens protecting their personal creativity.
I respectfully request the BCCLA consider a special review of its adopted position on Bill C-61.
John Degen, novelist
Disclosure: I also work as the Executive Director for the Professional Writers Association of Canada (PWAC), and am a proud participant in the Creator’s Copyright Coalition and a creator affiliate at Access Copyright, Canada’s copyright licensing agency. In my professional capacity with PWAC, I regularly advocate for the professional writer position on copyright against both corporate and consumer excess. This letter contains my personal opinion only, and should not be considered the official opinion of any of the groups mentioned.
cc: The Canadian Civil Liberties Association
This is an open letter, and will be published on my writing blog at www.johndegen.com after being sent to the parties addressed.