Recent media reports are indicating the copyright debate has turned ugly. The controversy centers on a speech given Tuesday by Heritage Minister James Moore in which he discussed the federal government’s copyright reform Bill C-32. C-32 was introduced recently, and will be discussed by a special Parliamentary committee once all the MPs are back from their summer break. Widely reported are Moore’s comments near the end of the speech in which he warns of those opposed to all copyright reform entirely and, in fact, all copyright. The speech is on video at various locations. You can see it here (part one) and here (part two).
For me, any claims that the debate is turning ugly are about seven years behind the times. That’s just for me. There are many other professional creators who have been arguing their rights under copyright for a lot longer than I have. The debate turned ugly for me, in 2003, the first time someone accused me (and by extension all professional artists) of being greedy, privileged and disrespectful to the rights of consumers (“maybe if you wrote something worth reading, people would want to pay for it”, etc.).
Those attacks happened immediately after my very first public comment on copyright. I had barely put my own words down on paper, and someone had already angrily, self-righteously pigeonholed me – greedy, out-of-touch, privileged artist that I am.*
Consumer advocate and occasional law professor, Michael Geist, is having a great time right now claiming Minister Moore’s more pointed comments – about those “who pretend to be experts, who the media all cite” – were aimed squarely at him, and that Moore has dismissed any and all criticism of the proposed Bill C-32. From Geist’s many blog postings on the Minister’s remarks:
“I'm under no illusion here. Yesterday, I asked in a post who Moore's "radical extremists" are. The video suggests that he thinks it is me and the thousands of other Canadians who have argued for fair copyright…”
Of course, Michael Geist is free to see himself in whatever shiny, reflective surface onto which his eyes fall, but I think it’s far more likely that Minister Moore was making reference to the many and very active copyright abolitionists who follow Geist’s every blog posting with an endless stream of anti-corporate, anti-American, often anti-artist invective.
Go ahead, have a read of any representative sampling of Geist’s comment stream (if you have some time on your hands, scroll up some 700 or so comments from here). Notice how anyone with an opinion not consistent with established and approved copyleft principles is almost immediately labeled a troll or a corporate shill and very aggressively discouraged from further conversation. There is a mob-like, pile-on energy at work over there that is mildly intimidating at its most benign, and downright terrifying at its extremes.
And this energy is not restricted to Geist’s only occasionally moderated comments stream (Geist does enter into discussion on the comment streams, but as far as I can tell only to personally answer critics, not to discourage the nastiness of his acolytes).
Now have a look at the Balanced Copyright Facebook page. Balanced Copyright for Canada is an advocacy group unashamedly representing professional cultural workers on the industry side. After Dr. Geist called them The Copyright Lobby's Astroturf Campaign in Support of C-32, many of his blog-followers made their way over to the Balanced Copyright Facebook page to pile on to the comment streams there and make now familiar accusations of corporate interest and dishonest messaging.
The gist of complaint against the group seems to be that they cannot possibly stand for balance in copyright, since they originate from only one side of the debate (the corporate side). I leave it to others to tease out the logic in that accusation, because I have yet to find it. The balance I’m familiar with requires two sides acting in concert to come to an agreement. If only one side is allowed to comment, there is no balance.
Of course, on the other side of the street from Balanced Copyright for Canada is Fair Copyright for Canada, a much older Facebook group from which many of Balanced Copyright’s loudest critics seem to originate. Fair Copyright was started by, yes, Michael Geist a couple of years back when the copyright reform bill of the day was called C-61, not C-32. I can make the happy claim of being one of the very first members of Fair Copyright.** I like fairness. I think artists should be treated fairly in copyright reform. I am also a member of Balanced Copyright for Canada. To me, these two concepts - fairness and balance - should not be the exclusive property of Fox News… they should belong to all citizens.
Fair is foul and foul is fair, apparently. Last night, while discussing copyright with various folks on Twitter, I was informed that my membership in Fair Copyright for Canada (York Region Chapter) had been revoked. To quote the tweet***:
“@jkdegen was booted from FCFC -YR after several attacks on FCFC from his extremist views.” And it didn’t stop there. The Fair Copyright representative added: “His remarks in group not consistent w/ FCFC principles” AND “He's been attacking FCFC principles and Geist.”
Well… wow. My extremist views can be boiled down to this consistent message – Copyright should protect the rights of artists. As we reform copyright for the digital age, let’s make sure we don’t harm the artists it was intended to protect.
You know, fairness, balance.
I continue to comment on the Balanced Copyright for Canada group, and I suppose I would over at Fair Copyright for Canada, if they chose to allow me to do so.
*In the course of my copy-debating over the years I have been called:
greedy, out-of-touch, a non-techie who doesn’t understand software, a copyright maximalist, all sorts of variations of stupid, a “creator of the past,” a corporate shill, a corporate apologist, in the pockets of corporations, a non-Canadian, a spammer, a troll, in it for the money, cowardly, blind, a control-freak, someone who wants to sue fans, grandmothers, teenagers and little children, someone who hates the blind… you get the picture.
My favorite attack came last week, when someone on Twitter informed me that I am too old to understand where copyright needs to go – this polite person had actually Googled me and looked up my birthdate, quoting it back to me as though I wasn’t aware of it (born two years before the Leafs last Stanley Cup win… how could I forget?). He then said something like “It’s too bad we will lose good**** writers like @jkdegen…”
Um, when will we lose me? Why will we lose me? I know I’m ancient and all, but…
**I was also one of the first season ticket holders for the Toronto FC MLS team. I’m a bit of an early-adopter that way, though I did wait for over a year to buy an iPhone.
***Quoting a tweet; is that a twuote?
****He may have actually said “great writers like @jkdegen,” but besides being greedy and out-of-touch, I’m modest.