Last evening, I participated in a very civil debate on copyright reform and Bill C-32, hosted by the Canadian Conference of the Arts as part of their new Thinking Culture series. It took place, believe it or not, on the campus of the University of Ottawa, also known as the self-appointed centre of Canada's free culture movement. Believe me, when I was invited to speak at U of O, I fully expected the room to be weighted heavily with folks who wanted to challenge and dismiss everything I had to say in defence of creator rights around the new fair dealing category for education. I mean, Michael Geist's office is steps from the building where the debate took place.
Here's a photo of the debate room, taken from the panel table well before the event (the room did eventually fill). I love this shot because here we are debating the merits and flaws of a government bill, and there's the government just a couple of blocks away, doing exactly the same. Yay democracy!
The debate featured:
Roanie Levy - General Counsel and Director, Policy and External Affairs, Access Copyright
John Degen - Poet and novelist, Literature Officer for the Ontario Arts Council (that's me)
J. Aidan O'Neill - Partner, Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP
Spencer Keys - Government Relations Officer, Canadian Alliance of Student Associations
.. and for the most part it was a a fun and interesting talk with very little (if any) acrimony, although Aidan O'Neill did mention my mother at one point and there could have been a throw down.
I focused my talk on the strange campaign to add "education" as a fair dealing category based on the costs it would save for Canada's overburdened post-secondary students. I brought some hand-drawn charts with me (coloured by my own little students -- my kids in grade three), showing that the actual numbers represent a minuscule extra charge per student when compared to the rest of the expense lines in their budget. The charts also showed that universities need not pass copyright licensing costs on to their students, since they represent an even tinier portion of their yearly budgets.
For me, the highlight of the evening was Roanie Levy putting into words what I have been thinking for many years. It seems some of the more extreme advocates on the user side are trying a little sleight of hand in which they insert new freedoms into C-32 under the umbrella of a very benign-sounding fair dealing in order to finally get what Canada's courts and copyright board have consistently denied them... the freedom to broadly interpret what happens in the classroom as almost entirely fair dealing. I'm pretty sure I didn't hear a strong denial on that point from either Aidan O'Neill or Spencer Keys (not that they themselves are sneaky advocates, but they were in the unenviable position of having to answer for some of the more extreme rhetoric on the user side).
All in all, a very positive evening. I finished up my own long day of arts work with a visit to the Tree Reading Series, which featured excellent readings by Dean Steadman and Canada's latest Parliamentary Poet Laureate, Pierre Desruisseaux (as well as a marvelous translation reading of some of Desruisseaux's work by a University of Ottawa grad student studying him). Then it was on to a local watering hole where I was hosted by some of the city's most exciting and interesting poets -- Tree organizer Rod Peterson, Pearl Pirie, the everpresent rob mclennan, sound poet Max Middle and new acquaintances Sandra Ridley and Christine McNair. There was one other fellow there, but I'm sorry to say I have totally blanked on his name (help me out rob).
The rest of the Tree line-up for the winter and spring is excellent, so anyone passing through (or living in) Ottawa on a Tuesday evening should check them out at the Arts Court at 2 Daly Avenue. Max Middle's AB Series is also well worth a visit. Ottawa is poetry-hot right now.