Tuesday, August 24, 2010

lessons in headline writing

Earlier in the month, a coalition of writer groups in Canada wrote a joint letter to federal Ministers Moore and Clement (Heritage and Industry, respectively) requesting "clear legislative guidance" on a proposed amendment to the Copyright Act that appears in Bill C-32 , the much-talked-about Act to Amend the Copyright Act.

The letter opens with praise:

On behalf of all professional writers in Canada we want to thank you for beginning the process of amending our copyright legislation for the digital environment. We recognize this process as an absolute necessity if Canada is to fulfill her role as a leader in the context of the growing global knowledge economy.

It continues with a request for clarity and an offer to open dialogue around the inclusion of the word "education" in the the fair dealing section of the Act. The intent is to make sure C-32 provides "clear, predictable and fair rules," which is one of the stated aims of the Bill.

The letter closes with gratitude:

"We thank you for your express willingness to amend C-32 and we will be presenting a comprehensive position that includes specific measures we hope will receive the support of your government."

It is signed by elected representatives of:

The Canadian Authors Association;
The League of Canadian Poets;
The Literary Translators' Association of Canada;
The Playwrights Guild of Canada;
The Professional Writers Association of Canada; and
The Writers' Union of Canada

All told, these groups represent over 4,600 working creative professionals in Canada, all of whom have chosen to join their industry associations and participate in the grassroots democratic processes that lead to policy statements such as this letter.

The tone of the letter is considered and reasonable; and it is absent any panic or dire warnings. It's surprising, then, that this is the same letter consumer advocate Michael Geist blasts as "fear mongering" on his blog, under the headline:

"Writers Groups Attack Fair Dealing Reform in Copyright Bill"

Geist criticizes the letter for inaccuracy and chides the creator groups involved for seeing uncertainty in the new amendment where there is none. He concludes with this remarkable back-handed accusation:

"If the writers groups are against fairness and balance in copyright, they should say so, rather than trumpeting misleading claims about the effects of the fair dealing reforms."

4,600 concerned Canadian writers against fairness and balance in copyright? Because they ask for "clear legislative guidance"?

What an astounding and nakedly biased charge from the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law, whose stated research goal is "seeking to reach a better understanding of how the various stakeholders can effectively co-exist and how a traditional governance system of checks and balances can be replicated in the on-line environment."

If you've read Dr. Geist's blog for as long as I have, you might be a bit less surprised by all of this. Another recent headline is just as provocative:

"Access Copyright's 1300% Tariff Increase - Deadline to Object is August 11, 2010"

... and just as misleading. Subsequent discussion of the tariff referred to in that posting has revealed claims of a 1300% increase are wildly inaccurate, yet that headline and all related claims remain uncorrected.

Geist's sensational jab at thousands of Canadian writers is all very confusing, since encouraging Canadian citizens to express their opinions on copyright specifics has seemingly been the professor's full-time job for the last five years. I guess some opinions are to be encouraged more than others.

In related news:

Harry Potter Books Spark Rise in Satanism Among Children!

Martians Land in Grover's Mill, New Jersey!

Law Professor Opposed to Clear Legislative Guidance!

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Joe Clark said...

Disingenuous as ever. Geist is calling you out on facts, not opinions. Adding education to the list of fair-dealing cases will not in itself rid you and your colleagues of the fees you all believe come as a package deal with copyright. He’s explained this more than once and you have, of course, avoided the topic.

Sure this isn’t affecting your day job, John?

John said...

Mr. Clark,

Presumably, more than one legal opinion will be sought as the federal government goes about amending C-32. Dr. Geist is on the record with his opinion. The coalition of writers groups have either come to a different opinion on their own, or have sought legal advice that tells them their concerns are valid.

I think they should be allowed to express worries about educational use of copyright-protected work without a prominent scholar impugning their collective character by saying they are against fairness and balance.

Also, I think it's fair that they seek compensation when their work is used in a professional, commercial context. I believe clear legislative guidance is a reasonable request and will be helpful to all parties in the discussion. Mr. Geist feels otherwise.

Thank you for your concern about my professional/personal life-balance. It's always a struggle and it affords very little genuinely free time, but in almost three decades as a professional creator in Canada, I've learned how to make it work. So far, so good. I even managed a few hours off yesterday evening to coach my kids at baseball, got to bed well before midnight (sorry, I was sleeping when you wrote your comment), and will be on the job all day again today.

Gruesome said...

I have to agree with Joe.
Even if I were to assume Geist has some kind of axe to grind and is being disingenuous. At least he seems to be making solid arguments where as you seem to favour a borderline diatribe. I'm just saying I've read much better on your site.
If he seemingly gets under your skin so much it might be better to ignore Mr Geist.
On another note I find the concern over this particular piece of legislation puzzling.
After a some quick research, I've seen how decimating the current situation can be to a writer.
I've found torrents online that literally contain thousands of books and could be downloaded in less than an hour.
The current copyright bill does little to address this problem.
I went back and reread it last night.
Is there truly anything in this bill that will be of use to anyone?
The RIAA just came out and said that copyright isn't working.
Since the the new copyright bill seems to be based on the US DMCA. I'm wondering what you might think about that.

Gruesome said...

PS Other that the right to Parody which is obviously such a huge win it's all anyone is talking about!
Did the sarcasm come out in that sentence, I'm not a writer.

vs1629 said...

I'm extremely concerned about the attacks on rights holders who dare to express concerns about certain provisions in the Bill. The Government's done the best job it can to craft a bill that balances user and creators' rights, but the fact of the matter is that the government needs stake holders to weigh in. By way of an admittedly extreme example, the government may not realize that if educational exemptions are too broad, they've effectively destroyed the educational writing industry as there will be no economic incentive to produce textbooks. Seems like the writers expressed their concerns in a balanced and reasonable way, and have been villified unjustly. It's one thing to disagree with someone's point of view; it's another to issue inflamatory statements designed, it appears, to rally folks against rights holders. There would be tremendous public outrage if, say, auto workers were expected to work for free, yet there is no similar outcry when creators aren't compensated for the works we all use. Deplorable.

Alexis said...

Intellectual property needs to be respected, books, poetry, plays, music and film are all integral to Canadian culture. We need to support our creators as it is their industry that is being effected by Bill C-32.

Darryl said...

That's right Alexis, creators should get unconditional support from all of us for whatever changes they want in Bill C-32 because it is 'their' industry, and nothing in this bill could possibly affect anybody else. We also know that all creators want the same thing from this bill as well, so making any necessary changes and passing it should be a slam dunk. Right?

Sandy Crawley said...

It's a pity that the comments posted here in response to John's defense of writers and their organizations right to express their point-of-view on a putative bill are beginning to read like the offensive and combative comments over at Professor Geist's bully pulpit.

Gruesome said...

Alexis, copyright is not for the sole protection of creators. It was created to benefit society as a whole.
Copyright encompasses rights for everyone.
Bill c32 would essentially gut fair use for Canadians, thereby damaging the balance that exists today.
Some would say that no balance exists where artists work is taken for free.
While this is an ongoing travesty, a solution should not encompass destroying the rights of fair use.
I believe that we may find methods of dealing with the situation which don't inhibit existing fair use.
Unfortunately #c32 does little to actually protect creators and more to drive consumers (the ones that keep creators working) to sources of infringing material.
You can make laws, but if people feel they are unjust laws that impinge their rights, they will seek out ways to exercise those rights.
The US took a very similar step with the DMCA, and yet the RIAA came out yesterday to say that copyright in the US is not working.
Should we expect c32 to fix anything?

Julius Kelp said...

Re: headline writing
Geist writes for the Star, what do you expect?

Anonymous said...

Slightly off topic, but considering John's considerable antipathy towards Google (and their book project) this is an interesting analysis to read. Make sure you download the PDF to get the details.

Economic Impact of Mass Digitization

Bottom line; The numbers don't appear to support John's position or bias against Google. I would be interested to see John do a reasoned and fact based refutation of the study.

John said...


How many pages should my refutation be? 44? 203?

What if it took the form of interpretive dance? Would that satisfy your need to hear me on this topic?

The numbers in this study do not "support [my] position or bias against Google?"

I wonder if it would be too much to ask for a reasoned and fact-based explanation of "[my] position or bias against Google?"

And while we wait, allow me to express my shock that mass digitization might have a positive impact on publisher revenues.

Why just today while lunching with a literary agent, both she and I were expressing the opinion that mass digitization of books will almost certainly have a positive effect on publisher revenues. It's like this study was listening to our conversation.

Objections to Google book scanning, mine at least, are not about comparative revenue statements; they're about creator rights, necessary permissions, and massive copyright infringement as an ideological position statement.

I celebrate the lawsuit and subsequent settlement for one reason only - it forced Google to deal with the owners of the content they had appropriated and stop acting like it had every right to scan whatever it wanted. Beyond that, I think the details and potential unintended consequences of the settlement are problematic, and I'm glad to see the courts dealing with them.

If you want more than that, I'll need your book report first.

Sandy Crawley said...


You seem to be too intelligent to squat in cynicism.

Sandy Crawley said...


Your patience is a wonder. I suppose it feeds on your Wildean wit.

Gruesome said...

@Sandy , I'm just following in the footsteps of the great Greek philosophers ...except I'm not willing to give up anything.