I have just finished reading a book review over at the Canadian Association of University Teacher's website, and I feel an overwhelming need to wash my hands... and eyes, my computer and, frankly, my diplomas.
Everything I've previously written about a very organized creator-unfriendly campaign from one corner of the educational sector (see my last posting for a comprehensive listing of links) has made me just a wee bit queasy with myself, because I've liked and admired almost every university professor who ever taught me. This makes my current state of respect-withdrawal rather painful.
So, some quick details:
The book review is of Professor Michael Geist's recent speed-edited collection of essays on Bill C-32 "From ‘Radical Extremism’to ‘Balanced Copyright’: Canadian Copyright and the Digital Agenda." This is the volume you can see Prof. Geist waving about in his commercial, I mean testimony, before the C-32 Committee.
One could be forgiven, I think, for expecting some sort of critical engagement with the text in a book review, especially in an academic context. Oh well. The CAUT review, written by York University music prof Jay Rahn fills the space below a jpeg of the book's cover with little more than the all too familiar attack on professional content creators. I quote:
"University and college teachers might assume the bill’s addition of “education” to the list of fair-dealing exceptions provides a carte-blanche privilege to copy copyrighted works willy-nilly. Indeed, propaganda efforts of lobby groups funded by multinational publishers have already spread this misinformation throughout Canada in op-ed pieces in large-circulation newspapers."
...Notwithstanding the misinformation campaigns of publishers and what some have termed the “copyright-collective industry,” which includes staffers and hired-gun lawyers who propose tariffs at the Copyright Board, whether or not Bill C-32 passes in its present form might well be of little direct consequence to teaching at Canadian universities.
It's important to understand that CAUT and much of Canada's post-secondary education system are currently in a tariff dispute with Access Copyright, Canada's Copyright Licensing Agency. This dispute is rather like a collective bargaining negotiation with Access Copyright representing the workers and CAUT et al representing the bosses.
As a non-staffer or hired-gun lawyer of the "copyright-collective industry," who regularly speaks out for strong creator copyright protection, all I can say is... really?
It gets worse:
Why would CAUT publish such a one-sided, unbalanced non-review promoting a highly politicized view of copyright reform? Do they have a stated position on copyright reform in Canada?
Well, look at that, yes they do:
CAUT's Copyright Consultation Submission
You can see that submission, and a great deal more of CAUT's policy statements on copyright and intellectual property on the CAUT website. Those materials include a 2006 podcast of, yes, Professor Michael Geist addressing a CAUT conference on copyright in Ottawa. In this address, Geist makes fun of CanCopy (now Access Copyright) on his way to proposing "a new vision for copyright" and states that "CAUT is in a great position to be one of the leaders in that regard."
Let me quote briefly from the CAUT submission:
"CAUT therefore recommends that the Act’s fair dealing provisions be amended to state “Fair dealing for purposes such as research, private study, criticism, review or news reporting does not infringe copyright” and to enumerate the fair-dealing factors described in the CCH case (again as non-exclusive factors). The important inclusion of the words “such as” would reflect the view that the categories are no longer rigid, limited and exclusive, but are better understood as broad and open-ended,"
Anyone following the copyright debate will recognize that recommendation as one of Michael Geist's own recommendations. He has long advocated that Canada "expand the current list of fair dealing exceptions by making it illustrative rather than exhaustive."
But what really makes me want to go and have a shower is the complete lack of disclosure by CAUT, Professor Rahn and Prof. Geist (who has gleefully tweeted about the review today). I mean, an attack on "propaganda" and "hired-gun lawyers" should, at the very least, let the reader know of the complex network of interests behind that attack. Something... anything... maybe a little paragraph at the end pointing out that just about everyone involved in that academic book review is pretty much holding hands.
For instance, one of the essayists in Geist's book is Sam Trosow, another professor deeply involved in CAUT's IP policy making. Professor Trosow has filed at least one affidavit in support of CAUT's interventions against Access Copyright in tariff disputes. In fact, Geist, Trosow and fellow anti-AC crusader Howard Knopf are the principal sources for CAUT's recent IP Advisory on C-32. I'll go out on a limb and guess that both Trosow and Geist actually had a hand in writing CAUT's Copyright Consultation Submission.
Another of Geist's recent essayists is fellow University of Ottawa professor Elizabeth Judge. Prof. Judge also contributed to Geist's earlier copyright volume In the Public Interest: The Future of Canadian Copyright Law, as did Sam Trosow. Interestingly, Professor Judge also sits on the four-person Working Group on Copyright for the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences; a working group chaired by none other than the author of the book review, Professor Jay Rahn.
Sad to say, I and my fellow professional creators are getting very used to some of the dirty tricks and nasty attacks in this collective bargaining moment. We're used to being called shills for the entertainment industry, lobbyists (said with a sneer), members of the copyright cartel, astroturfers, propagandists, liars, jailers, confiscators, extortionists* and a whole host of other nasty names. I'm even getting used to the fact that many of these attacks come straight from a university I paid good money to attend.
But, can y'all do us a solid and - at least - take off the masks before you bludgeon us.
* I picked up this nice one today, on the blog of Athabaska University assistant prof of literary studies Mark A. McCutcheon - thanks Professor McCutcheon! Does that make you an assistant prof of "extortion" studies?