Wednesday, September 02, 2009

view from a grassy knoll

While still involved in the ongoing struggle for copyright reform in this country, I have tried over the last year to keep out of the often ridiculous "copyfight" -- a debate by blog and comment that seems to have no end, and will surely one day outpace frame-by-frame Zapruder analysis for the "least likely to find agreement" award.

I have submitted my personal opinion on copyright reform to the federal government as part of their extensive and laudable public consultation process (and I'm assured my submission will eventually show up on the website). I also initially signed up for the Toronto Town Hall meeting last week, but decided in the end not to go as I needed to travel for work that same evening. Toronto's a big town full of adults who work as professional creators and others who know what they want from technology. Often, these are the same people, and they have subtle enough thinking to have looked at the issue from many perspectives. I was confident Toronto would manage a healthy public debate between professional creators and consumer-rights advocates. So, I hit the road for Sudbury, and looked forward to reading about the Town Hall online the next day.

You will be able to view the transcript from the Toronto Town Hall at the federal consultation site as soon as they load it with the rest of them. There have been eleven consultations in total across the country, and all have been transcribed. This is the very definition of an open, freely available public consultation on legislative change -- something everyone in this debate has been calling for in one way or another for close to a decade. No-one could possibly fault the process, could they?

They could. Here's what I read when I called up consumer advocate Michael Geist's blog on Friday morning, somewhere near the big nickel:

"it wasn't really a copyright townhall in the sense of bringing the community together to talk copyright in an open and balanced manner. Instead, the music industry stacked the room to such a degree that little else was discussed... This was not a real townhall that brought together differing views, but rather an all-out effort by the industry to scoop up the available seats, guarantee themselves a dominant voice, and exclude many alternative voices in the process... Now is the time for Canadians - many of whom could not get a seat at the townhall since it was filled by industry reps just days after the consultation launch - to speak out. "

Read through the many comments following Geist's post and you'll get a sense of just how far reasoned debate can depart from the main highway.

Anyone showing up at that meeting with a strong copyright perspective is dismissed as "industry" and part of "an entertainment cartel" -- as though being a worker in the cultural industries is in itself evil and disruptive of fair discourse. As well, one speaker who claimed to be a pirate and spoke out against copyright in what might be described as an unfocused manner is accused of being "paid by industry to do this."

I'm happy those whose livelihoods depend on strong copyright laws mobilized for their cause and showed the colours last Thursday. I'm proud of the cultural sector for representing. In my experience, it's never easy to get a wide-ranging group of artists to gather in the same room for any reason, since the business of art making can be isolating and distancing. To me it means something very important about this issue when cultural workers come out in force to discuss it.

And presumably it also means something when those arguing an alternate position decide not to show up to an open and public consultation, not to air their views and opinions in the same room with the real people most affected by those views and opinions. Given the very opportunity they have been demanding for years now, the copyfighters stayed home and now fill their blogs with conspiracy theory speculation about why they were shut out of the process. I shook my head all the way to Sault Ste. Marie last Friday, and I'm shaking it still.

To be clear -- anyone with an interest in this discussion was invited to sign up for a seat at the Town Hall. It was restricted only by the size of the room, and from what I hear it was a pretty big room. Sign up was as simple as filling out an online form and seats remained available for days after the hall doors were opened. Those who did not show up, like me, were not shut out; instead, they made a conscious decision not to show up. I'm happy with my decision, but clearly now the copyfighters must deal with some personal regret.

At least those charged with bringing in new legislation have heard someone speak out on this issue. If it was mostly professional creators, I suppose that's because professional creators have the most invested.

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1 comment:

Just Another Evil Emissary of American Interests said...

Hi John,

Just wanted to say what a pleasure it is to hear your voice again in the neverending cacophony that is the Great Canadian Copyright Debate (although, as you rightly point out, in some corners it more closely resembles a barfight than a debate), even if only for a short period of time. In fact, reading the back-and-forth between Screenwriter Denis McGrath and your old friend Infringer in the comments section of Michael Geist's blog made me nostalgic for the old days...

I hope the OAC is treating you well! We in the copyright trenches certainly miss your posts! :)


PS Great submission!