Tuesday, October 26, 2010

letter to Ottawa

Last week, with the help of the group Balanced Copyright for Canada, I sent the following letter to all Members of Parliament and all Senators.

So, far, I've received quite a number of thoughtful responses from Conservative MPs (including the Prime Minister), BQ MPs, Liberal MPs and Senators. I have yet to receive a response from an NDP Member of Parliament -- not even from Charlie Angus who has been the most vocal Parliamentarian on copyright. I'm not sure what that means.

I look forward to the Bill C-32 committee hearings:

I'm a proudly Canadian professional writer. I've published three books with homegrown small presses; many of my poems, stories and novel excerpts first appeared in Canada's fine literary journals; and I've lost count of the number of freelance pieces I've sold to Canadian magazines and newspapers since I began my writing career over twenty years ago.

Over the course of those twenty years, I've also worked in the association and collective side of the cultural sector, running the Professional Writers Association of Canada, chairing the Book and Periodical Council, and volunteering countless hours of my time for such worthy organizations as Magazines Canada, The Writers Trust, The Writers Union, and The League of Canadian Poets. I now also work on the funding side, administering grants to writers, publishers and literary presenters.

I can't think of a better country than Canada in which to declare myself a writer. The passion and loyalty with which our writing and publishing community has built a unique Canadian literature is beautiful to behold. Yet today, I see our made-in-Canada industry at a crossroads. The potential market for Canadian books and Canadian writing is vast, but it is filled with an uncertainty that stalls our progress both at home and in valuable foreign markets.

The source of that uncertainty is copyright – more specifically, our long wait for meaningful copyright reform that acknowledges the unique challenges and opportunities of the digital world. Bill C-32 is the third kick at the digital copyright can in the last decade and, while I welcome its introduction, I'm concerned that it simply doesn't do enough to help secure reasonable market expectations for Canadian artists and their industry partners.

As the debate on C-32 continues, you will hear a lot about new user rights, new consumer protections, new user exceptions to copyright, and fair consumer dealings under the law. Let's be clear. Canadian copyright is a law for Canadian creators. It exists to give reasonable protection to the creative work and intellectual property of Canadians, and to secure fair markets within the knowledge economy. We must not destabilize these markets. All new consumer exceptions should be thoroughly examined for potential harm to creators, and established creative markets such as education must be protected.

Those who have framed copyright reform as a fight between consumers and creators do a terrible disservice to Canadian culture as a whole. Canadians are recognized worldwide for our creativity and cultural products, and each and every Canadian citizen is a potential professional creator.

Canada's cultural industries are positioned to help lead the world in the digital marketplace. Fears or suggestions that we intend to lock away our content or harm consumers just don't make sense. We're simply asking for a law that is serious about protecting our intellectual property from piracy and the intentional infringement that destroys legitimate markets for our work.

I ask that when you engage in discussion about amending Bill C-32 you do so with the Canadian creator in mind.


John Degen, author

(Peace Tower photo - and a beautiful one at that - courtesy of tekdiver on Flickr - licensed under a CC Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic licence)


Chris A said...

The markets are already stabilized by the rather poor actions of the various creative industries to deal with new technology, and this is not going to go away by making copyright over protective of creator/publisher rights like it is right now, mainly though the digital locks provision.

While it's important to make sure that creators can be paid for their work, trying to make things so that the consumer, the person you need to buy your work, have no rights at all to use the work in fair ways pretty much means that the consumer, the person you need to want to actually pay you for your work, won't want to anymore.

Good will goes a long way to make surte that the Canadian creators can get paid, and having a copyright bill that respects both the creator and the consumer is more important than one that exists to protect just one side of the coin too much.

Chris A said...

"The markets are already stabilized" should read "The markets are already destabilized"

Gruesome said...

I think it's interesting that you're framing copyright reform as a fight between consumers and creators.
Copyright was created to benefit everyone and every citizen has an investment in good copyright legislation.
By trying to shanghai copyright for creators only you are contributing to the overall problem of division.
I would agree with you that the protections under c32 are weak.
I also think it's interesting you make no specific criticism nor offer and suggestions.
I'll give you one, notice on notice is a joke, won't mean a damn.
I think fines like speeding tickets(just an idea).
But legal use needs to be allowed to bypass digital locks.
Also for the record James Moore now considers you a "Radical Extremist"

Anonymous said...

well said john -- you are not alone in wondering at Chuck Angus' silence ...although it is perhaps better than the response I received from Olivia Chow assuring me she shares my opposition to C32... a little odd given that my letter was one of support for C32 and asking that the NDP engage in constructive dialogue around the Bill.

Anonymous said...

You can't stop the Internet. Punishing users has never worked, and it will not work. Personally I would rather see creators get paid for the sharing, and legalizing of this sharing than see creators and industry go down in flames. But hey, it's a free market, and their choice.

There will soon come a realization, that if there is to be a creative industry, illegal downloading will have to be legal, and creators properly compensated for this. To think otherwise is a huge misunderstanding of the reality faced by creators.

It wasn't long ago that both TV and Radio went through the same thing as the internet is going through now. Radio was evil and giving away "free music" on the airwaves, and creators with the same mindset as john nearly killed it. Now it's an essential part of the creative industries.

Creators historically end up going to war with new mediums, and only hurting themselves in the process. This time rather than taking it out on the Radio Stations, they are going after the listeners that tune in. No logic there, sorry.

Let's just hope sanity prevails, and Canadians don't have to give up constitutional rights because of a few who refuse to listen, and refuse to develop new ways of compensation around this new medium.

I personally would rather get paid, than go through another decade of ignorance, and spin as displayed in this letter to MPP's, and watch my livelihood be in ruins because of the ignorance displayed by some creators.

It's time for a change, and it's time to get paid. Less ignorance John more listening skills I think are needed by you and others around you. Without those skills you do wrong on not just your industry, but the very creators you swear to protect.

John said...

Yes, that's what I want to do. Stop the Internet.

I'm not fighting a medium, my anonymous friend; I'm fighting an almost inexplicable desire to have artists give up their individual rights.

Chris A said...

And the consumers that you are fighting with (for some unknown reason that makes no sense when you actually get down to reading the arguments of the people you try to fight with) want to make sure that their rights are respected as well. Respect is a two way street John, the sooner some creators and collective groups learn this, the happier you will be.

Anonymous said...

Artists don't have rights john, they are signed over to the publishers/producers once a contract is signed. You well know that, so does 99.9% of the creative community. If you were actually fighting for creator rights, you would be fighting for a change in contract law to protect those rights, not copyright law.

John said...

Chris A -- my fight is not with consumers or fans, despite how often it is misrepresented that way. The fight I respect is with malicious infringers and those who make excuses for them in order to advance their own theories and careers.

Anonymous - that level of cynicism is probably impossible to cut through. Some of us believe we can work for our individual rights in a number of contexts. And what happened to everyone's faith in the great democratizing of creation via new media? Haven't you heard? Artists may never have to sign another contract ever again.

Sandy Crawley said...


We actually need both contract law and copyright law to make professional creativity feasible.

Sandy Crawley said...

Nov 2nd.

It looks like the NDP have made a political calculation to try and cover their base by calling for the private copying levy (which I believe will be ruled out of order since it is not in the draft) and then hammering the distance learning provisions to repair damage in remote Canada done by their gun registry vote.

Anonymous said...

Some of us (especially those who are contract free) believe we can make money off of file sharing. Just as in Radio a few decades back; the "evil" infringers must be punished and thrown out of existence. Ya, Ya, Ya whatever..we’ve heard this line before several times before P2P.

You don't fight for indie's john, nor do you represent a growing consensus within individual creators on their definition of "individual creative rights". Those in the real creative industry world see our rights being slowly stripped away on contract. You do nothing to champion those rights on this blog, nor the protections of them. Sorry but I can't bite on to your arguments here.

Anonymous said...

@Sandy Crawley

Both contract and copyright laws are important, but both have to be "realistic".

The only rights creators should have, is the right to get paid that's it. For the most part, that’s all the rights we have to begin with. I don't see anything here in john's blog that forwards an increase in pay. All I see is a continuation of failed approaches on attacking consumers (the people who pay creators) and there is no logic behind that. You have got to be really "thick" to believe that anything john is calling for will make any difference in pay for creators, it’ll be swallowed up by publishers. I shouldn’t have to say this considering the company I’m in right now.

Chris A said...

Then John, why do you spend so much time fighting everyone over on another blog when they are doing none of the things you claim to be fighting against? Because it's certainly not to add to the conversation

Sandy Crawley said...


You are correct on the historical predation of writers rights by publishers through contracts but I can't agree that stripping further rights to remuneration out of Canadian copyright legislation will make no difference in the future. We (writers) need to stiffen our spines and apply negotiating skills to the contracting process. But one process (contracting) does not obviate the other (the codification and enforcement of IP law).

Chris A said...


The problem is that by making laws that don't take the consumer into consideration, which is what a lot of the lobby groups that are arguing for the creator want, you're going to end up loosing more consumer respect and people will be willing to pay you less.

There are a lot of polarized opinions on both sides, and very few who seem to bring out the moderate view. I personally have no idea what your view is, but defending the choices of some of the groups who are trying to change copyright so that the consumer has no rights is not helping the image that there are moderate creators (who I know exist), just like the rapid "copyright should be completely abolished" point of view help the view that there are moderate consumers.

Most people agree that our laws need to be updated, and there are people on both side who want it to be updated to completely suit them, and then there are those who want it to be updated but respect both positions. The middle gets lost and sometimes lumped with the other when they express views that don't match some peoples views, but they do exist.

Anonymous said...

@Sandy Crawley

Well said, but I think we need to rethink which rights are relevant to remuneration and are enforceable within the reasonable expectations of society. I think it's more important to fix our own house first, then look at the relevancy of IP and how to build a system around the reasonable expectation of both contracting parties (consumers, and artists not industry).

The view and rights of IP should and probably will change once in house rights are renegotiated, then we’re back at square 1 again. If I’m right on the historical predation, than those in creative arts should be questioning what publishers are asking for and how this benefits you when you sign a contract. If you don’t know the exact amount of solid money you will gain from what they are calling for with respect to IP, and are not 100% certain it can be enforced, that’s a big risk and gamble don’t you think, but too each his own.

We’re all entitled to our opinions. I just don’t like those who come out in plain disrespect for either the consumers or the artists, and there seems to be a lot of disrespect aimed by the author of this blog towards a group of people we rely on for our pay cheques. I think we all have to show more respect for society on that front in order to usher in a profitable future for all in the creative industries.