Unfortunately for her, when Helienne does speak about professional creation she occasionally rubs free-culture ideologues the wrong way. All her talk about respecting intellectual property, not infringing copyright and paying for music makes the FC boys angry - and when they get angry, they become bullies.
In her first column for The Australian, Lindvall relates how some of her past opinions have resulted in extended bully-sessions from the mostly anonymous free culture crowd:
...the anonymous abuse I received went to such disturbing lengths that I became so stressed, worried and afraid (I received death threats on Twitter) that I considered never again speaking out. When an indie label who spoke up in my defence had its website attacked and disabled, I felt I didn't have the strength to fight this battle on my own.I recall a Lindvall column in which she marveled at the fact that a few famous free culture advocates get paid quite handsome sums to fly first class around the world and lecture the rest of us creative schlubs about how we should be working for free. It was funny, thought-provoking and spot-on in its criticism... and boy, did it make some folks mad. Prominent science-fiction writer and outspoken critic of traditional copyright-related industries, Cory Doctorow was one of the well-paid media gurus on which Lindvall focused. She referenced a conference organizer who'd contacted Doctorow's booking agent and was quoted his speaking fee. Lindvall mentioned that rather impressive fee in her article.
Doctorow responded immediately in her comment section (his is the fifteenth comment, with many to follow) with a slew of forceful denials about his earnings from speaking fees. He listed all the pro-bono events he spoke at in the previous six months to show just how little he'd made, and only later did he admit that, yes, his booking fee for professional gigs is actually pretty close to what Lindvall had originally reported. Yes, he does fly first class, Doctorow admitted, but only because of a medical condition. Then, in what is still (to date) the most bizarre piece of online bullying I've ever seen, Doctorow uploaded an MRI image of his... well... of his groin. With the naughty bits blacked out, he titled the photo "My hips, for Helienne."
You can't make this stuff up, folks. It's all right there for anyone to see in the comments at the link above.
Let's put aside the strangeness of someone feeling they have to prove how little they make as some sort of character reference, how in hell does expressing a public opinion about professional creation warrant Lindvall's aforementioned Twitter badgering, death threats, and the flashing of a groinal MRI in her face?
It's not for nothing I ask this question. Over the last week, I drove a couple thousand kilometers around Ontario's northeastern regions, meeting professional (and non-professional) writers, visual artists and festival organizers to talk about arts funding. It was an invigorating, educational, geographically beautiful journey - the kind of business trip that reminds me just how rewarding it is to work in the cultural sector. Such good people, such interesting conversation.
Yet the whole time I was on my mini-tour of the near north's professional creators, I trailed a cloud of Twitter complainers (one of my friends compared it to Pigpen's cloud of dust from the Peanuts cartoons). I'd be sitting in meetings, talking with artists, and I'd feel my Blackberry buzz against my leg again and again, signaling yet another attack on my opinion in the ongoing copyright debate. As you may know, I have often commented publicly on copyright, most recently with an opinion piece in the Globe & Mail defending a tariff on educational use of copyright-protected materials. As with Lindvall, my public opinions attracted vicious and increasingly weird attacks.
There are 73 comments* following my Globe piece and all but a few are clearly from the educational lobby on the other side of the issue (many from commenters who frequent this very blog, pestering my every thought with their denial), and a great many of them have that particular free-culture flair - "The dying wheeze of yesterday's man" is my favorite (it's almost poetic). As with Lindvall, nothing I say in response to the attacks seems to make any difference. Using facts certainly has no effect.
As the situation stands, speaking forcefully in favour of creator copyright these days puts one on the free-culture hit list. Folks you've never heard of will suddenly find you on Twitter and pester you ceaselessly (they really seem to have NOTHING else to do with their time).I sometimes wonder why more artists don't speak out on this issue, but I know the answer. Who wants to be the target of that incessant negativity?
If you make too many waves for the free culture folks then maybe, like Lindvall and me, you'll even get a visit from Cory Doctorow himself. Doctorow dipped into my Twitter battle to belittle my suggestion that he and other prominent critics might actually want to meet with the Canadian copyright collective (Access Copyright) and work for positive change, rather than constantly sniping at them from afar. How could he meet with AC, he sneered, since he lives in England?*
And then - again bizarrely - he claimed he'd already met with the Access Copyright Executive Director:
@doctorow: Oh, and there was the whole day I took off work to meet with the execdir in LondonThe suggestion being that Doctorow had generously given of his valuable time to talk over copyright with Access Copyright, and found them inflexible and unmovable - just another failed business model in the great free-cultural revolution.
Funny thing about that all day meeting in London - it never happened. I'm good friends with the Executive Director of Access Copyright, and I definitely would have remembered her telling me she had a daylong session with Doctorow. So, I asked her about it.
When I mentioned to Doctorow he might not be... um... presenting an accurate history, I was immediately called a troll (Doctorow didn't call me a troll - that was one of his protectors - but he helpfully explained to me that I get called a troll "because of your tone is so often meanspirited" (sic)). Doctorow then dismissed me:
@doctorow: In any event, I'm done with this. I don't find discussion w you productiveI guess not. When it becomes clear to everyone involved that the loudest critics of Access Copyright and professional creation in Canada aren't really on top of their own factual claims, how productive could their arguments be?
* I later discovered that when Doctorow made this remark, he was tweeting from... Toronto. He is speaking about copyright and totalitarianism tomorrow evening at the Art Gallery of Ontario, about a ten minute walk from the office of Maureen Cavan, Access Copyright's Executive Director.
** Interestingly, while those professional creators in support of my views stay away from the comment pile-on, they did share my article 45 times on Twitter and 150 times on Facebook. I like to think of them as the silent majority.
image courtesy Helienne Lindvall's website