Toronto is in the midst of a midwinter thaw today, and so too it seems are the copyright wars. The end of January brings all sorts of news of respect for artists, respect for the truth and respect for changing business models.
Last night I listened to a podcast of NPR's Talk of the Nation, which included a piece on How Online Paywalls are Changing Journalism. This story contained the welcome news from The New York Times that its much-maligned (by free-culture activists) new subscription/paywall structure is, in fact, working. Not only is it working, but its structure is being emulated by other newspapers
Critics have said NYT's online subscription (I am one of its subscribers) would simply not work with today's Internet. For instance, famed new media prognosticator, Cory Doctorow suggested the NYT's model was not viable and that potentially paying customers would be turned off by its complexity. He even offered to bet a testicle (someone else's testicle, it should be noted) that no-one would be able to keep track of their own NYT linking behaviours well enough to find value in the subscription.
Similarly classy predictions can be found across the web, almost all of them containing that endearing free-culture message that anyone who wants folks to pay for content on the Internet is just plain stupid.
Stupid like a fox, it seems. The NPR discussion included input from both Clay Shirky, associate professor in the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU, author and Denise Warren, senior vice president and chief advertising officer at the New York Times Media Group, general manager for NYTimes.com. It seems the NYT has hit upon an NPR-style supporter model that is attracting both loyal, paying customers and advertisers who want to get some of that loyalty action for themselves.
Alright, so we've fixed newspapers, now what?
Ah, educational licensing. Canadian free-culture activists took a big swipe at Access Copyright last summer, agitating for a boycott of collective licensing in the post-secondary context, using misleading math around the price of new licenses, and irresponsibly endangering the quality of education for tens of thousands of undergrads across the country.
Yesterday, two of the largest and most respected universities in Canada officially opted out of the proposed licensing boycott and signed good-faith agreements with Access Copyright, the licensing agency representing tens of thousands of Canadian creators. A joint press release went out yesterday from AC and the universities. As a graduate (twice!) from the University of Toronto, I am very happy indeed to know my alma mater chooses to bargain in good faith and work hard to respect copyright. I believe I will walk down to campus after posting this and hug a librarian.
"This agreement gives us a convenient, comprehensive way to share content digitally and in paper form from a repertoire of millions of publications,” said Janice Deakin, Provost and Vice‐President (Academic) at Western. “The backdating of the agreement gives us peace of mind by covering past digital uses that may have exposed the university and the indemnity provision increases the university’s legal protection against copyright infringement.”
Western and UofT will each pay Access Copyright a royalty of $27.50 per full‐time equivalent student annually. This royalty includes what used to be a separate 10 cents per page royalty for coursepack copying, so there will no longer be a separate royalty for such copying. The new royalty is substantially below the amount initially sought by Access Copyright in its Tariff application before the Copyright Board.
And finally, respect for accurate reporting.
The online journal ars technica has not been the best friend of professional artists and the cultural industries in this protracted battle for copyright reform, but it seems even they could no longer stomach the willful exaggeration and misinformation campaigns of free culture. Yesterday, ars technica took the Internet to task for inaccuracies in its attack on the Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement ACTA), one of a host of international agreements that, like the American SOPA and PIPA laws, free culture hopes to hobble by scaring the wits out of naive Internet users. Have a look at this, fairly typical, video attack on ACTA:
If you then read the ars technica article you see that it addresses each of the video's scariest claims about ACTA and shows how they are not just inaccurate, but often just plain false. Yet it is negative campaigning like this video that is used by free culture theorists to whip up anger and send young people into the streets in the false belief that their freedoms are under threat (remember the claims that SOPA would shut down YouTube? Same idea) . ars technica references this exact video, saying:
...the video itself is full of erroneous claims. The video has been embedded by outlets that should know better, like The Atlantic, and it has been viewed half a million times.
What's that delicate scent in the air? Why, it's the delightful aroma of reality. Can a true copyright spring be far off?