Earlier today, I was informed that my name will likely soon appear on a list of people who have not done enough to combat a proposed graduated response approach to piracy. Because of certain memberships and affiliations I keep, I will be publicly "outed" as quite possibly both a fascist and communist with designs on undermining the Canadian constitution.
No, I am not writing a Doctorowesque dystopian novel about the inevitable breakdown of society under strict dogma; I'm just talkin' about my day -- a pretty average day in the copyright trenches actually.
This week, I wrote (and signed my name to) a letter distilling and explaining my concerns about the copyright reform process in general and Bill C-32 in particular. The letter will be going to every sitting Member of Parliament and every Senator. It is included in a series of similar letters on the subject organized by the group Balanced Copyright for Canada (BCFC). BCFC describes itself as a coalition of content creators, artists and rights holders, and people who work in music, movies, games, books, and software, who believe that Canada needs to move into the digital age on its legislation governing copyright.
I'm flattered and proud to have been asked to contribute to this effort in a group that includes established Canadian artists Loreena McKennit and Randy Bachman, and relative newcomers like Maïa Davies of the group Ladies of the Canyon. These are all hardworking Canadian artists and cultural industry professionals who have decided to take very public positions in support of a strong copyright law. They are not hiding in back rooms, surreptitously campaigning to sue fans, kick innocent families off the Internet, lock consumers out of their phones and PVRs, or burden poor students with enormous debt; they are simply asking for their established rights to be understood, respected and protected.
I want to emphasize the public nature of this wide-ranging effort on the part of Canada's professional creators. It can be uncomfortable and intimidating insisting on one's rights or raising one's voice in public for any reason, but particularly so when the issue is copyright, since copyright has the often baffling ability to inspire extremes of anger and accusation toward anyone speaking on its behalf.
On this blog, I've documented several times how nasty and sensational the copy-critics can be. Part of my own practice of standing up for my rights is to follow the copyright reform debates as closely as I can, and to comment regularly here and on other blogs and discussion sites. I have personally been called so many ugly names by so many self-proclaimed enemies of corporate copyright greed I've made it through a number of identity crises (Am I an apologist for US cultural imperialism? I don't think I am, but...).
A couple of weeks ago, I took part in a panel discussion on Bill C-32 organized by the Documentary Organization of Canada (DOC). On the panel with me were other strong copyright advocates, as well as representatives of the "user rights" side. Let me tell you, having taken my licks online from the user rights crowd, it takes some forceful self-discipline to show up in public, slap on a name-tag, and invite questions and comments from a crowd of relative strangers.
This event came about because of an article published in POV magazine by Sandy Crawley. Sandy is the current Executive Director of the Professional Writers Association of Canada (I am a past ED of the same organization). Mr. Crawley is also a professional musician and actor. He is another of Canada's courageous creators who is willing to put his name forward in support of strong copyright protection.
Let me name a couple more of my copyright heroes, if I may.
Bill Freeman is an award-winning author of historical fiction for kids and young adults. He writes for television, has chaired The Writers Union of Canada and the Creators Copyright Coalition. He is also a playwright who focuses on Canada's labour history (Glory Days: A Play and History of the '46 Stelco Strike)
Susan Crean is the author of an award-winning biography of iconic Canadian painter Emily Carr, The Laughing One (short-listed for the 2001 Governor General's Award for non-fiction). She has decades of experience consulting with the cultural sector and government on copyright policy, was one of the original organizers of the Toronto CopyCamp series of unconferences bringing copyright and copyleft perspectives together for discussion. Susan is particularly fearless about standing up, saying her name and advocating for strong creator copyright.
Why am I making such a point of naming names?
As I've shown elsewhere, those who disagree with me about copyright online have an unsettling tendency to lead with anger, fear and intimidation. My ideas are dismissed as garbage, propaganda, lies, greed. I am called a moron, a troll, a shill, and anything that is negative and can be combined with the word corporate. Once, I was even removed from a discussion forum and had my entire history of discussion on that site erased as though it had never happened. That is the atmosphere that makes me admire any and all who publicly defy the rage and aggression that mars so much about copyright reform.
Ironically, a lot of these attacks come from anonymous or pseudonymous commenters. I'm fine with people using alternate identities online. I do it myself occasionally when I want to be funny (I flatter myself) or make a clear delineation between a private opinion and one that might be mistaken as "official" (contrary to what many seem to think, I do NOT set policy for the entire Ontario Arts Council).
What I don't do is ever hide my identity to avoid having my name attached to the ideas in which I believe. I name myself.
Which is why the latest attempt to bully and intimidate me is so insulting, and so baffling.
Back to the present. This was today's salvo from a commenter who can name himself if he wants to:
Over the next few weeks I will be posting up a blog with respect to whom in the Creative Industries have not come out strongly against the graduated response and whom have signed support to groups advocating for this approach, which is socialist and fascist also board line treason and against our constitution in my view. Keep an eye on that list Degen. You might just find yourself on it from who you have advocated and signed on to support... I will also be providing the contact and twitter info with this list as well.
I'm really not sure what to make of this threat to reveal my contact and Twitter information. I certainly haven't been hiding in the shadows on this issue. Here's my twitter feed. And while I tend to keep my personal e-mail address for personal stuff and my work address for work, anybody can contact me through the comments section on my blog. All comments are forwarded directly to my e-mail.
That my name and information might appear on a list of treasonous fascists and socialists seems humorously absurd, though my experience in this debate tells me to expect anything.
I think what disturbs me most about this threat is that it was made on a very influential discussion forum - one of the central discussion fora in the reform debate. Not only was the threat allowed to stand unchallenged by a moderator, by the forum's host (who ignored it) or by more reasonable participants, it was implicitly encouraged by subsequent commenters.
The government has done a good job of consulting widely, and writing legislation in as transparent a way possible. The strong copyright side has done a great job of sponsoring reasoned discussion, such as happens at CopyCamps and on the DOC panel.
Is anyone even trying to keep things civil and, um, not increasingly weird on the consumer advocacy side? Have we really reached the stage where blacklists are being waved about?
If we have, I hope I can count on Randy, Loreena, Maïa and Sandy to provide some kick-ass music at the blacklist party. Maybe Susan, Bill and I will collaborate on a book about it all.