Last week, I posted about TV writer Denis McGrath’s challenge to those on the copyleft to take more responsibility for the inflammatory and inaccurate rhetoric that seems to sprout up and spread like dandelions whenever anybody in power utters the words “copyright protection.”
I think McGrath highlights a very serious problem for Canadians as we try to figure out how to fit our laws and practices into the digital world – these discussions are necessarily complex and require subtle, good-faith conversation between all interested parties. Sensationalist campaigning and absurd conspiracy theorizing do exactly nothing to foster that kind of conversation.
And yet, those approaches persist. And really, as far as I can tell, they are just getting worse; over-the–top conspiracy advancement is now the banal, unsurprising starting point from which I’m expected to defend my rights as an artist. Have a look at this Vancouver Film School award-winning short “explaining” digital rights management, which is of course a tool of copyright enforcement. I first saw this video on consumer advocate Michael Geist’s blog, where it is advanced as some sort of accurate illustration of real concerns in ongoing copyright reform. Thanks to vimeo for the embed code.
I tell you, it’s flabbergasting. To his credit, Michael Geist qualifies his own thoughts on DRM with this pre-video passage:
“Note that most of the debate around copyright reform does not argue against the use of all DRM. Rather, it focuses on the need for balance in the implementation of legal protection for DRM, by arguing that existing exceptions (described by the Supreme Court of Canada as "user rights") should remain effective even where a publisher has implemented a restrictive DRM system.”
Of course, that doesn’t stop the comments section of that thread from giving immediate legitimacy to the ridiculous fear-mongering in the video. And that is the very nut of McGrath’s criticism last week, isn't it? Leadership on these ideas does not stop with the embedding of a video. Contextualize (please!), and when that doesn’t take, contextualize again.
I’ve been in this discussion for the better part of a decade now, ever since a colleague of mine showed me this cool site called Napster but couldn’t quite explain to me how the musicians were being paid when he downloaded their songs. I’ve heard all the arguments for open content and unrestricted file-sharing. I’ve read Lessig, Doctorow and Geist at great length. I am aware of the theoretical terrain.
I’ve advanced the professional writer’s perspective (aka, my perspective) here, on other blogs, in many comment streams and in the mainstream media. For my sins, I have been accused of all manner of anti-consumer, anti-user, anti-freedom, anti-democracy, anti-humanity thoughts and behaviors. After all that work to protect my rights, and after all that scorn, my central question remains unanswered – if I’m not allowed to decide if, when and/or how my work travels the various digital highways and byways, how am I being protected as a professional artist? Note, my request is not for control over something someone else has or does or wants to make; it’s for confident control over my own work.
Russell McOrmond, a person I admire and respect despite our ongoing and potentially irreconcilable disagreements over key copyright concepts, can quite dispassionately and with limited rhetoric explain his complex, subtle position on DRM – see for instance, The Two Locks of DRM. I have my disagreements with what he says in that essay (and even more so with how others might interpret his thoughts); nevertheless, Russell’s writing is a far more helpful addition to the copyright reform discussion than the video above. And yet, I see on his own blog today that he likes this video. Sigh. Like I said, potentially irreconcilable.
My own quick thoughts on DRM, by the way:
Attempts to protect or manage digital rights with technology probably wouldn't exist if real value was not being threatened. DRM exists as a proposed solution to a real problem, which also exists. If the problem went away, my guess is DRM would as well. See, no maniacal eyeball watching you from the screen -- just some thoughts about actual copyright concerns.
So, my request for the coming weekend – can we please put away the revolvers, handcuffs, chains, scary-looking safes, and weird dystopias? I promise, if we ever find ourselves in a true Orwellian nightmare, I will fight for the rebel alliance in my Mad Max outfit. In the meantime, can established, professional artists just ask for a law that protects our work without being accused of ruining everything that is fine and good?