Wednesday, November 03, 2010

awarding, appreciating and protecting artists -- so far, November rocks

Last evening I watched Miriam Toews, Emma Donoghue, Devon Code and James FitzGerald win the major writing prizes at the Writers Trust Awards. Toews tear-filled acceptance speech was a remarkable testament to the impact of family and friends as support to the working writer.

Tonight I will be traveling up the 400 highway to listen to Canadian writers Michael Winter, Alissa York and Caroline Adderson read with American Brando Skyhorse at the IFOA Ontario event in Barrie (at the Gryphon Theatre on the Georgian campus - tickets still available, and will be sold at the door).

Next week, I will try to avoid all the cameras at the Scotiabank Giller Prize (stay near the bar, I've learned - for some reason TV cameras avoid the bar).

It is, truly, a wonderful season for readers, writers and publishers in Ontario. And for me, nothing could make it better... except maybe the fact that after what feels like more than twice the decade it has actually been, a copyright reform bill has reached second reading in Parliament.

I've spent a bit of time looking over the debate, and what strikes me immediately is a serious level of confusion on key elements. In particular the issues of TPMs, fair dealing and collective licensing for artists are the subject of astonishingly inconsistent statements by all parties, all of whom I genuinely believe are trying to find that ever elusive balance that copyright so famously strikes.

I humbly suggest that this inconsistency and confusion is a natural and pernicious by-product of any copyright debate -- even the official kind of debate that happens in houses of Parliament. These issues are complex, and the terminology is mixed and matched to suit conflicting purposes. Start with the fact that almost everyone defines fair and balanced as meaning "what I believe and not what the other guy believes," and you are bound to have trouble with any discussion trying to define both of those terms.

Highlights for me in the debate so far:

1. Both federal Ministers -- Clement and Moore -- show a courageous intention to get this thing done once and for all. That's extremely refreshing. We've all waited far too long.

2. I did a quick, very unscientific survey of the debate comments and have concluded that almost everyone made special mention of the central role of artists and cultural creation to Canada in one way or another. It's no secret I think that point is at the very centre of this discussion. Nice to see it at the centre of Parliament.

3. Minister Clement's insistence that in an ever-changing technological context, legislation must be "principle-based." That might even be a direct quote from my own Copyright submission during the consultation. Hear, Hear.

4. Minister Moore's enumeration of the broad support for the bill in principle, which is a simple, elegant refutation of recent suggestions that artists and writers hate the bill. There is a difference between respectful amendment suggestions and hate.

5. This quote from Liberal Member of Parliament Marc Garneau:

"With regard to the exemption for the education sector, the Liberal Party will attempt to amend the bill by proposing to clarify what exactly constitutes “fair dealing”. Naturally, the secret of a good policy always resides in the right balance. By defining what is fair, we will ensure that the law gives educators the necessary flexibility while offering artists, authors, and creators a better guarantee that their works will be protected."

Mr. Spaceman, you had me at "proposing to clarify."


1. Minister Moore was cut off by a time-limit just as he was about to tell us all who we should not listen to. I regret missing that entertaining detail.

2. NDP Member of Parliament and digital issues critic Charlie Angus taking the opportunity to reference the suing of kids and grandmothers, John Philip Sousa, Thomas Edison, the Pirate Party, RIAA and the MPAA. Honestly, Mr. Angus, I appreciate so much of what you have to say on this issue, but if I wanted to read a Cory Doctorow-style rant about the history of copyright, I would go to Boing Boing.

I do appreciate Angus's point about a war on collective licensing (although I would point him at another blog to see that war in full battle), but when he said that Napster's popularity wasn't "because music was free," I have to question the impact of anti-copyright rhetoric on his thinking. I don't remember a single interaction with anyone, ever, on the subject of Napster that didn't involve great excitement about not paying for the music.

Anyway, as I drive north in a couple of hours, I will do so happy in the knowledge that, finally, the debate over copyright in Ottawa has made it over the Laurier Bridge.


Sandy Crawley said...

Thanks for this John. Your life in literature this weak sounds pretty good. I also appreciate the arrival at 2nd reading of the copyright bill. However, I must say that my assessment of the opening debate is not quite as sunny as yours. Almost everyone made good points but I fear the level of understanding the effects of some of the provisions of C-32amongst our elected leaders is still far below where it needs to go if we are to arrive at a truly balanced bill.

Onward and upward in the Arts (up a pretty steep hill)!

Sandy Crawley said...

I meant "week" not "weak"...need proofreader....

Gruesome said...

The understanding of the bill and technology by some of these guys was laughable. Perhaps they'll stumble into something meaningful.
The bill only needs a few tweaks so maybe we can get there.

John said...

Sandy and Gruesome,

I agree the level of understanding is quite disappointing, but I tend to think that is not the fault of the MPs. There is so much misinformation about copyright, intentional and otherwise, out there right now, I am often baffled by what people think on the subject.

On the other hand, I choose to take heart in the fact that despite many years of relentless consumer-focused campaigning and artist-bashing from certain corners, the House in general recognizes that artists are at the core of the discussion.

Chris A said...

Unfortunately for the artists John, they are not the only party that is the core of copyright law no matter how much you want to think so.

Anonymous said...

Would somebody please explain to my why artists should be at the core of the discussion. I would think that ART would be at the core of the discussion. Copyright therefore should be geared toward producing more art. Which in some ways will be good for artists, and in some ways will not. If you put the artist in the middle then you are starting the discussion with a skewed view of the world.

Perhaps that is the whole problem here.