Thursday, the special C-32 Committee charged with seeking balance in the Copyright Modernization Act was itself questioned about a perceived lack of balance. Before the first witness of the day spoke, MP Carole Lavallée complained to the Chair, Gordon Brown, about a distinctly unbalanced presentation schedule.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association, represented by Nathalie Des Rosiers and Howard P. Knopf, both of whom had previously testified before the committee were given the full first hour of the schedule to present similar testimony to what they had already brought.
Given the presence of Knopf, an outspoken educational fair-dealing advocate and critic of collective societies, it is accurate to say the first hour was given to a single and previously heard user-perspective group, while the remainder of the committee's time was divided between three separate creator-perspective groups, each with their own unique concerns and each being given their one and only opportunity to speak to the committee.
Ms. Lavallée's concerns have merit, I think. In the very same early exchange, Gordon Brown noted that close to 170 witnesses remain on the schedule and that it is unlikely the committee will get a chance to see them all. Given that fact, it seems a strange waste of the committee's time to see the same witnesses with the same testimony twice.
I appreciate that the Clerk of the Committee has a very difficult job in this instance, but I think it behooves all members (and staff) to be more aware of perspective-balance. The clerk's explanation that the CCLA's submission would be more broad than that of the three creator groups, could be interpreted as prejudgment of testimony not yet heard by the committee. I am, in general, very pleased with the attention the C-32 committee is giving to its complicated subject-matter, and I would not want any perception of prejudgment to creep in and poison the well for either creators or users.
To be clear, I don't think this was the case on Thursday. I think what happened was an honest misstep - but a disturbing misstep nevertheless. Howard Knopf has now been given two opportunities to present his extremely one-sided opinions of collective societies in front of the committee. On the see-saw of copyright testimony, he is sort of like the bully who pushes someone out of line so he can have a second crack at knocking off the kid in the opposing seat. Not exactly good schoolyard behaviour; but then, we've come to expect that from the more vocal free culture advocates in this debate.
On a much more positive note, the Professional Writers Association of Canada (PWAC) presented, in my very biased opinion, some of the most clear, levelheaded and culturally intelligent testimony the committee has seen. In the spirit of full disclosure, let me inform those who don't already know that I was Executive Director of PWAC for five years of the last decade.
Above, you see Alexander (Sandy) Crawley, Executive Director of the Professional Writers Association of Canada presenting PWAC's testimony in front of the C-32 Committee on Thursday afternoon. Video of his full testimony can be still seen on the committee website.
He covered a lot of ground, but returned again and again to a very plainspoken declaration that stands, I think, for all professional creators in Canada. Professional writers are already discovering and inventing new business models to help lead Canada's knowledge economy. Contrary to what the most outspoken free-culturists say about us, we are not living in the past, trying to return everyone to dead technologies and business arrangements. Instead we intend to be the leaders in all of this, but we can't very well lead if ill-conceived copyright reforms cut our hamstrings.
I think Crawley's finest moment came under questioning from NDP copyright critic Charlie Angus. Angus, a musician and former small magazine publisher seemed to be trying to draw Crawley into his own ideological attack on "big" corporate media. This is not a foreign ideology to freelance writers or most professional creators, but neither is it particularly helpful to professional creators in this discussion, and Crawley refused to bite the hook.
Many writers and artists are willing business partners with corporate media clients. Big media is a large and very important market for the cultural economy. And besides, in copyright it's not just big media who are rightsholders. We are all rightsholders. Weaken the rightsholder side and you just make it that much easier for free culture bullies to knock us all off the seesaw.