Tuesday, September 14, 2010

set rhetoric to stun

(image of the Kremlin courtesy the Swedish National Heritage Board)

I've often pointed out how anti-copyright rhetoric favours gun, jail cell and shackle imagery. If one were to only casually follow the argument against strong copyright, it would be easy to conclude that corporations are plotting to use copyright and IP laws to bring about a world domination plan Doctor Evil would envy. And since some corporations undoubtedly already own remote island testing facilities, we're probably more than halfway there.

A lot of folks in the cultural community (who have also been asking for strong copyright protection, btw) react understandably poorly to these analogical predictions. After all, who enjoys being accused of nefarious plotting to subjugate the world's populace? Not me.

But, if the last ten years of political history have taught us anything, it's that fear-mongering works. So don't expect any dialing down of anti-copyright rhetoric anytime soon, certainly not with imminent committee hearings on the Canadian copyright reform legislation, and the conclusion of anti-counterfeiting treaty negotiations (not to mention the recent Access Copyright educational levy hearing in front of the Copyright Board).

Consumer advocate Michael Geist is Canada's (perhaps the world's) leader in scary copyright campfire stories, and this week has been a banner one for the University of Ottawa law professor. In a Toronto Star column timed to hit parents and students in the back to school haze, he attempts to terrify us all with visions of "a massive increase over current fees," as a result of the proposed Access Copyright tariff. In classic circular argumentation Geist points out there "seems to be a growing sense that many faculties and courses make very little use of the [Access Copyright] licence." He fails to mention, however, that the "growing sense" was planted, watered and fertilized by Geist himself on his own blog.

Geist is aware Access Copyright has stated openly they only wish to licence actual uses uncovered by individual licencing, and that the collective of writers, visual artists and publishers will be challenged by the copyright board to provide adequate proof of those uses - in other words, that a system is already in place to protect students from unfair costs as cultural workers seek payment for the use of their work by universities.

He is also aware that his very own university could pay the licence for every single one of its students with a tiny fraction of one percent of its annual budget without ever having to pass the cost on to those students or their parents. He is aware of these things; yet his column still raises the specter of unmanageable student loans and unreasonable cost increases.

I remember marching alongside my profs and their teaching assistants when they hit the picket lines to demand fair pay increases. Ask me how it feels now to have a prominent professor campaigning against a fair increase for cultural workers.

How does it feel?

Well, I'll tell you -- it doesn't feel nearly as bad as having that same professor imply that support for strong copyright and intellectual property enforcement will almost certainly lead to authoritarian suppression of dissent. Not only am I trying to stiff poor students (like my own kids -- what kind of monster am I?), but apparently I am also in league with Russian autocrats who will use any excuse to shut down NGOs who criticize the government.

Here's Geist's latest, fellow cultural workers. Read it and feel very, very guilty, because you love government repression of the masses:

How IP Enforcement Can Be Used To Suppress Dissent

Of course, writers, publishers and corporate copyright-holders actually hate this kind of oppression so much we volunteer time and money in organizations like PEN Canada to work against it. Geist knows that as well, but don't count on hearing about PEN Canada around the Geist campfire.

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Joe Clark said...


It’s not up to you and your “strong copyright” friends, who may not wish to be associated with you in actual practice, to decide what is and is not expensive or affordable for other people, particularly when the issue is paying for a licence for something that does not actually legally require payment.

To say this another way, you people seem to think that copyright protection gives you perpetual legal authority to shake users down for money. This is “strong copyright” only to those who equate strength with greed.

Your substantive points have been demolished by your critics, whom you actually don’t ever debate, possibly because you can’t. Access Copyright is a racket; many materials (in fact, an increasing number) are intentionally licensed free of charge by the creators you claim to represent; the CCH case permanently expanded fair-dealing rights, even for you and your strong friends; and the percentage increase in fees demanded by Access Copyright is outrageous.

Counter that, strongman.

Pieter Hulshoff said...

I don't know John. Your blog started out pretty strong, with some good articles, some of which I agreed with and some of which open to some good debates, but lately your blog seems to turn into a Geist bashing machine. Really a shame if you ask me, for you have so much potential.

All Professor Geist did was point out how strong copyright laws are abused in some parts of the world. At no point in time did he claim you or anyone else opposing fair dealings would be among those in favor of that. Hell, even in Europe and the US the EUCD/DMCA is used to prevent Open Source Software developers from competing on a level playing field by forbidding them from implementing any player software that allows the playing of content with DRM, and by printer manufacturers to prevent 3rd party printing cartridges from working in those printers. That doesn't mean any of us are in favor of a free for all copyright market.

Joe's quite right when he points towards an incredible increase in the licensing costs from AC. It is not important whether or not universities can afford that or you could make the same argument for any increase in costs for students. The only questions that are important are "Why do the fees need to be increased?", and "Is this increase justified?". I've heard no answers from you other than "The universities can afford it with a fraction of their budget.". Trust me: if they have a budget surplus, I too have a bank account I wouldn't mind being filled.

Unknown said...

A lot of folks in the cultural community (who have also been asking for strong copyright protection, btw) react understandably poorly to these analogical predictions.
It would help, if you would tell the truth. Some people in the 'cultural industries' think that increasing copyright protections is a good thing. Other people in the 'cultural industries' like myself and many others think that it's a bad thing. Artists are divided on the issue, and by implying otherwise, you are lying to your readers.

Also Bill C-32 as written does not do a lot to protect artists. It does however protect certain companies, many of who prey on artists (Google the term 'Corporate Copyright Scofflaws').


John said...

Joe, Pieter, Mad,

Gosh, here I expected my thoughts might help inform the occasional copyright critic who visits this site, but you three find the blog so disappointing you just have to keep coming back to tell me so.

If I understand correctly, you also believe my arguments have been demolished, that I don't debate, that I can't debate (my old high school debating awards notwithstanding... just saying), that I and the rest of us people are greedy racketeers intent on shaking down users for money, that I lie to my readers, and (perhaps best of all) that I am not living up to my early potential (boy, if I had a nickle...).

If you want to complain about the tariff debate focusing on affordability, go to the source and ask Michael Geist to stop tying those two things together (as he does AGAIN in his TorStar column). If you want to hear justification for the tariff proposal details, attend the Copyright Board hearings (although you may have just missed them).

If you want to make claims of outrageousness about percentage increases, share some factual data on the increase you find outrageous. Even better, do so to the Copyright Board (although, see above).

Finally, if you want to parse my words endlessly to bring the conversation back around to your favorite talking points, please spare us all. Blog chatter is fun and all, but copyright reform will (thankfully) happen in the real world, and THERE, as I have said "a lot of folks in the cultural community" are pretty tired of these ridiculous and extreme accusations.

Finally, every single one of you missed a really embarassing typo I made in the original posting (now fixed). It was right there, waiting to be wittily satirized, but no, you went with the standard aggressive defense of Michael Geist. It's like when you accidentally leave your Queen exposed in chess and your opponent totally misses it. How can I respect y'all now?

Pieter Hulshoff said...

Actually John, as you may have noticed from my decreasing amount of comments here: I don't read your blog nearly as much as I used to, and though you probably wouldn't mind if I did, I'm likely to stop reading it altogether if the quality of your posts doesn't improve. No, that doesn't mean your typos; we all make those from time to time, and I see no reason to call you on yours if I can't even prevent my own.

As for the artists' views on copyright matters: I find more and more articles online from artists who feel just like we (being artists ourselves) do: that copyright is supposed to be a balance between our rights and that of society, and that certain planned changes in the law totally remove that balance. This can only result in the anger of society, which will end in general loss of respect for copyright. 7% of the Swedes voted for a one-issue party that wants to practically abolish copyright, and 15% of the Dutch people voted for parties that want to seriously reduce copyright scope and duration. Seriously, keep up this one-sided view on copyright, and you might not be left with any.

As for C-32: there's preciously little in there for artists, and a lot for invested American interests. I'd love to see that balance shifted towards the artists in stead.

John said...


I can't help thinking that 93% of Swedes, 85% of Dutch folks and me would have a very nice conversation together about cultural matters.

I don't think I have a one-sided view at all. I think I have a very nuanced understanding of copyright, in line with what you have just described as the greater majority. What I object to (and you seem to object to me objecting to) is the ongoing and increasingly ridiculous scare tactics of the small minority opposed to strong copyright.

For instance, over at Michael Geist's blog today we have "Darryl" comparing IP enforcement and those who support it to corporations complicit in the sadistic murder of Iraqi kurds.

It amazes me that folks congregate here and demand explanation for my mainstream views but let that kind fo whackiness stand without complaint.

vs1629 said...

John, thank you for a rebuttal to Geist's fear mongering. I am enraged by posturing like this that paints rights holders in a negative light for daring to fight for compensation for use of their works. The fee under ACs tariff is certainly not unreasonable given the value their members' rights have and their materials' contributions to students' educational experience. I'm sure the average student would spend as much money in one night partying as the annual per student cost of this tariff. I'm so sick of the unrelenting attacks on rights holders.

Steve Kane said...

Thanks for this John ...We are more than a little tired of Prof Geists scare tactics and the he general pass he gets in the media.

The Madhatter (Hello Wayne) is of course correct some in the cultural industries would welcome many of the reforms outlined in C32 and some oppose sections of the bill. But when the Madhatter speaks in absolutes that's apparently fine

Mr Clark suggests that those in favour are looking for a "perpetual legal authority to shake users down for money" ...since when is trying to make a living been considered a shakedown? I see nothing in the bill that would suggest this strategy nor do I see anything that keeps creators from giving gratis licences. What I do see, currently, is a growing culture of entitlement and little or no protection for those creators that chose to try and make a living in the cultural fields. Joe, it's not up to you and your abolish copyright friends to decide whose work can be stolen or in your parlance "infringed" on.

The Madhatter is fond of decrying columns or op eds by the likes of James Gannon or Barry Sookman because they don't identify their complete client list as disclaimers ... I've yet. to see such a list of Prof Geist's Blog
Steve Kane

Pieter Hulshoff said...

John, I believe your math is failing you here. :) It's not that 93% of the Swedes and 85% of the Dutch are agreeing with you; they don't care enough about this single topic to make it influence their vote (yet?). Think about it:

The Swedish pirate party is basically a one issue party: IP rights and privacy. 7% of the Swedes now find this so important that they're willing to ignore all other issues, and vote for this party. Such a thing was unthinkable 10 years ago.

You also seem to be under the impression that I think this is a good thing. I do not. I'm just understanding where this behavior is coming from.

You say you have a nuanced view of copyright, and in comparison to some of the people I usually debate with you do. I do remember our discussions on DRM/TPM, and your view of user's rights seemed simple:

Your rights are absolute, and to be protected against all costs (preferably not paid for by you). Users' rights only exist, not by law, but by what you are willing to sell them.

Perhaps not the words you'd use, but that's basically what it came down to to us with regards to the DRM/TPM discussion.

Pieter Hulshoff said...

vs1629 and Steve Kane,

Since it's their works, of course the AC has the right to increase their prices. The schools however do have the right to decide accordingly, and not purchase their works anymore if they can find better/cheaper alternatives. AC seems to think that since they hold a monopoly over a large amount of educational works, everybody will just accept any price increase they seem fit. Professor Geist is showing them that theirs aren't the only works available for use. The students in turn will then decide if that will influence their choice of schools.

It's not that dissimilar to what we see down under at the moment. The music licensing agencies there have increased their prices so much that many cafes have decided not to play any of their music anymore, and now they're crying foul. Well, that's what happens if you get too arrogant.

Honestly, the more pressure the industry puts on girl scouts singing around the campfire, restaurants singing "Happy Birthday", cafes showing soccer matches, etc. the more people are getting fed up with this copyright shakedown (yes, if you abuse a monopoly this way, it's a simple shakedown procedure: pay up or else), and frankly: being a strong supporter of copyright, that scares me.

ACTA, something that could have been a very interesting treaty, was being filled with the RIAA/MPAA wishlist. As a result, it's getting pretty close to being torpedoed dead in the water. The industry had better realize that if they keep up this one sided view on copyright, the pendulum could very easily swing the other way. We already see this in China, where the US lobbied very hard for them to take a harder stance on IP infringement, and now US companies are being hit hard by IP lawsuits by Chinese companies. Not exactly what they had in mind.

Sandy Crawley said...

Great piece John. I posted it on the PWAC web site and our FB page. Most of the respnse is soooo predictable. Why won't these copylefters examine the facts?

Pieter Hulshoff said...

What facts would that be Sandy? If our reactions are sooo predictable, how about refuting some of the statements that have been made?

It is a simple fact that the new licensing by AC will mean a price increase (the % of which depending on how you look at it, but an increase in any case). If my barber suddenly raised his prices by a significant amount, I would check out alternative barber options, independent of whether I am capable of paying these increases prices with a fraction of my income. Universities are no different, and this is as good a time as any to have a look at all the options on the table to see if AC still offers the best one for their curriculum. Nothing strange about that in my opinion.

You also may have missed the part about many of us being creators ourselves, and highly in favor of a strong yet balanced copyright law.

Gruesome said...

Sandy and John don't seem interested in arguing the merits of anything, they are just as bad as the what they term the free idealists who want copyright to go away altogether. Anyone who doesn't support one sided copyright where all control lies with industries should be categorized as copy leftest and marginalized if possible.
Any attempt to call for a balance and you may as well be a pirate.
Between the the "every thing for free types" and "protection at any cost types" there is going to be no compromise and everyone will end up losing.

Anonymous said...

Read it and feel very, very guilty, because you love government repression of the masses

Then you should read this:

MPAA wants to know if ACTA can be used to block damaging sites

This is one of the organizations lobbying for stronger copyright, on your behalf. Perhaps this isn't what you wanted from them, but it is what you are getting. Is there a danger for misuse in strong copyright? It sure looks like it's more than a vague possibility. And that possibility is being justified by careful wording in laws, while ostensibly protecting artists rights.

John said...

I see, anonymous. You would like me to take speculation about potential motivations for a question "apparently" asked by someone at an information session in Mexico as a reliable indication of the evil that is strong copyright in Canada.

I ask myself occasionally if the copyright "debate" can get any more ridiculous. The answer is always yes.