(image of the Kremlin courtesy the Swedish National Heritage Board)
I've often pointed out how anti-copyright rhetoric favours gun, jail cell and shackle imagery. If one were to only casually follow the argument against strong copyright, it would be easy to conclude that corporations are plotting to use copyright and IP laws to bring about a world domination plan Doctor Evil would envy. And since some corporations undoubtedly already own remote island testing facilities, we're probably more than halfway there.
A lot of folks in the cultural community (who have also been asking for strong copyright protection, btw) react understandably poorly to these analogical predictions. After all, who enjoys being accused of nefarious plotting to subjugate the world's populace? Not me.
But, if the last ten years of political history have taught us anything, it's that fear-mongering works. So don't expect any dialing down of anti-copyright rhetoric anytime soon, certainly not with imminent committee hearings on the Canadian copyright reform legislation, and the conclusion of anti-counterfeiting treaty negotiations (not to mention the recent Access Copyright educational levy hearing in front of the Copyright Board).
Consumer advocate Michael Geist is Canada's (perhaps the world's) leader in scary copyright campfire stories, and this week has been a banner one for the University of Ottawa law professor. In a Toronto Star column timed to hit parents and students in the back to school haze, he attempts to terrify us all with visions of "a massive increase over current fees," as a result of the proposed Access Copyright tariff. In classic circular argumentation Geist points out there "seems to be a growing sense that many faculties and courses make very little use of the [Access Copyright] licence." He fails to mention, however, that the "growing sense" was planted, watered and fertilized by Geist himself on his own blog.
Geist is aware Access Copyright has stated openly they only wish to licence actual uses uncovered by individual licencing, and that the collective of writers, visual artists and publishers will be challenged by the copyright board to provide adequate proof of those uses - in other words, that a system is already in place to protect students from unfair costs as cultural workers seek payment for the use of their work by universities.
He is also aware that his very own university could pay the licence for every single one of its students with a tiny fraction of one percent of its annual budget without ever having to pass the cost on to those students or their parents. He is aware of these things; yet his column still raises the specter of unmanageable student loans and unreasonable cost increases.
I remember marching alongside my profs and their teaching assistants when they hit the picket lines to demand fair pay increases. Ask me how it feels now to have a prominent professor campaigning against a fair increase for cultural workers.
How does it feel?
Well, I'll tell you -- it doesn't feel nearly as bad as having that same professor imply that support for strong copyright and intellectual property enforcement will almost certainly lead to authoritarian suppression of dissent. Not only am I trying to stiff poor students (like my own kids -- what kind of monster am I?), but apparently I am also in league with Russian autocrats who will use any excuse to shut down NGOs who criticize the government.
Here's Geist's latest, fellow cultural workers. Read it and feel very, very guilty, because you love government repression of the masses:
How IP Enforcement Can Be Used To Suppress Dissent
Of course, writers, publishers and corporate copyright-holders actually hate this kind of oppression so much we volunteer time and money in organizations like PEN Canada to work against it. Geist knows that as well, but don't count on hearing about PEN Canada around the Geist campfire.