Wednesday, October 13, 2010

naming names -- welcome to the blacklist

(image courtesy the delightful public domain - Counterattack was one of the original organs of American red-baiting, leading to the Hollywood blacklist of the 1940s and 50s)

Earlier today, I was informed that my name will likely soon appear on a list of people who have not done enough to combat a proposed graduated response approach to piracy. Because of certain memberships and affiliations I keep, I will be publicly "outed" as quite possibly both a fascist and communist with designs on undermining the Canadian constitution.

No, I am not writing a Doctorowesque dystopian novel about the inevitable breakdown of society under strict dogma; I'm just talkin' about my day -- a pretty average day in the copyright trenches actually.


This week, I wrote (and signed my name to) a letter distilling and explaining my concerns about the copyright reform process in general and Bill C-32 in particular. The letter will be going to every sitting Member of Parliament and every Senator. It is included in a series of similar letters on the subject organized by the group Balanced Copyright for Canada (BCFC). BCFC describes itself as a coalition of content creators, artists and rights holders, and people who work in music, movies, games, books, and software, who believe that Canada needs to move into the digital age on its legislation governing copyright.

I'm flattered and proud to have been asked to contribute to this effort in a group that includes established Canadian artists Loreena McKennit and Randy Bachman, and relative newcomers like Maïa Davies of the group Ladies of the Canyon. These are all hardworking Canadian artists and cultural industry professionals who have decided to take very public positions in support of a strong copyright law. They are not hiding in back rooms, surreptitously campaigning to sue fans, kick innocent families off the Internet, lock consumers out of their phones and PVRs, or burden poor students with enormous debt; they are simply asking for their established rights to be understood, respected and protected.

I want to emphasize the public nature of this wide-ranging effort on the part of Canada's professional creators. It can be uncomfortable and intimidating insisting on one's rights or raising one's voice in public for any reason, but particularly so when the issue is copyright, since copyright has the often baffling ability to inspire extremes of anger and accusation toward anyone speaking on its behalf.

On this blog, I've documented several times how nasty and sensational the copy-critics can be. Part of my own practice of standing up for my rights is to follow the copyright reform debates as closely as I can, and to comment regularly here and on other blogs and discussion sites. I have personally been called so many ugly names by so many self-proclaimed enemies of corporate copyright greed I've made it through a number of identity crises (Am I an apologist for US cultural imperialism? I don't think I am, but...).

A couple of weeks ago, I took part in a panel discussion on Bill C-32 organized by the Documentary Organization of Canada (DOC). On the panel with me were other strong copyright advocates, as well as representatives of the "user rights" side. Let me tell you, having taken my licks online from the user rights crowd, it takes some forceful self-discipline to show up in public, slap on a name-tag, and invite questions and comments from a crowd of relative strangers.

This event came about because of an article published in POV magazine by Sandy Crawley. Sandy is the current Executive Director of the Professional Writers Association of Canada (I am a past ED of the same organization). Mr. Crawley is also a professional musician and actor. He is another of Canada's courageous creators who is willing to put his name forward in support of strong copyright protection.

Let me name a couple more of my copyright heroes, if I may.

Bill Freeman is an award-winning author of historical fiction for kids and young adults. He writes for television, has chaired The Writers Union of Canada and the Creators Copyright Coalition. He is also a playwright who focuses on Canada's labour history (Glory Days: A Play and History of the '46 Stelco Strike)

Susan Crean is the author of an award-winning biography of iconic Canadian painter Emily Carr, The Laughing One (short-listed for the 2001 Governor General's Award for non-fiction). She has decades of experience consulting with the cultural sector and government on copyright policy, was one of the original organizers of the Toronto CopyCamp series of unconferences bringing copyright and copyleft perspectives together for discussion. Susan is particularly fearless about standing up, saying her name and advocating for strong creator copyright.

Why am I making such a point of naming names?

As I've shown elsewhere, those who disagree with me about copyright online have an unsettling tendency to lead with anger, fear and intimidation. My ideas are dismissed as garbage, propaganda, lies, greed. I am called a moron, a troll, a shill, and anything that is negative and can be combined with the word corporate. Once, I was even removed from a discussion forum and had my entire history of discussion on that site erased as though it had never happened. That is the atmosphere that makes me admire any and all who publicly defy the rage and aggression that mars so much about copyright reform.

Ironically, a lot of these attacks come from anonymous or pseudonymous commenters. I'm fine with people using alternate identities online. I do it myself occasionally when I want to be funny (I flatter myself) or make a clear delineation between a private opinion and one that might be mistaken as "official" (contrary to what many seem to think, I do NOT set policy for the entire Ontario Arts Council).

What I don't do is ever hide my identity to avoid having my name attached to the ideas in which I believe. I name myself.

Which is why the latest attempt to bully and intimidate me is so insulting, and so baffling.

Back to the present. This was today's salvo from a commenter who can name himself if he wants to:

Over the next few weeks I will be posting up a blog with respect to whom in the Creative Industries have not come out strongly against the graduated response and whom have signed support to groups advocating for this approach, which is socialist and fascist also board line treason and against our constitution in my view. Keep an eye on that list Degen. You might just find yourself on it from who you have advocated and signed on to support... I will also be providing the contact and twitter info with this list as well.

I'm really not sure what to make of this threat to reveal my contact and Twitter information. I certainly haven't been hiding in the shadows on this issue. Here's my twitter feed. And while I tend to keep my personal e-mail address for personal stuff and my work address for work, anybody can contact me through the comments section on my blog. All comments are forwarded directly to my e-mail.

That my name and information might appear on a list of treasonous fascists and socialists seems humorously absurd, though my experience in this debate tells me to expect anything.

I think what disturbs me most about this threat is that it was made on a very influential discussion forum - one of the central discussion fora in the reform debate. Not only was the threat allowed to stand unchallenged by a moderator, by the forum's host (who ignored it) or by more reasonable participants, it was implicitly encouraged by subsequent commenters.

The government has done a good job of consulting widely, and writing legislation in as transparent a way possible. The strong copyright side has done a great job of sponsoring reasoned discussion, such as happens at CopyCamps and on the DOC panel.

Is anyone even trying to keep things civil and, um, not increasingly weird on the consumer advocacy side? Have we really reached the stage where blacklists are being waved about?

If we have, I hope I can count on Randy, Loreena, Maïa and Sandy to provide some kick-ass music at the blacklist party. Maybe Susan, Bill and I will collaborate on a book about it all.
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Chris A said...

If you want to actually have a conversation with the user side, you should really make sure to not make it look like you're writing off everyone who disagrees with you because you can't find a good argument to counter theirs. And yes, you come off that way both on this very blog and on the other one you mostly go to seem to attack the owner for rather than actually talking about the issues they bring up.

If you're fine with your image the way it is, you can continue to act the way you do now, which is overly dismissive. If on the other hand you're actually willing to take other views into consideration, you may want to change the way you approach things.

John said...


Thanks for the lecture. I will take your points under advisement.

I have conversations with users all the time. I myself use copyright protected content all the time - as do all the people I've named in my posting.

Do you have any comments related to my blacklisting?

Chris A said...

I personally don't really care about the list, nor do I think the list will actually mean anything but to a few people. I personally think the list is rather stupid to be honest since the chances of it really being meaningful are rather lore.

Though you seem to brucs it off as not overly important in one way, you also seem to think it's the most important thing overall in another. It's a really confusing stance to take.

Chris A said...

Lore = low

Crockett said...

Yes John, the 'copyleft' are the only ones with eccentrics 0_o ...

To put so much credence in some bloggers rant shows you made a good career choice to match your over active imagination ;)

Anonymous said...

I'm an independent commentator, my thoughts on this are:

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Then again I may not have to post anything at all in the coming weeks. We'll see what happens in committee first. Looks like those who wanted the graduated response from Government got shown the door today:

Anonymous said...

Hey John -- continue to stand up for creators and point out the misinformation that comes from Dear Leader Geist and the freeload crowd

John said...

Just as importantly, what does everyone think of the new side-menu photo? Took it on the weekend on Mount Nemo. Spectacular hike.

Once the copyright wars are over, I propose we all meet on Nemo for a make-up picnic. If no-one goes over the edge, Canada just might survive.

Crockett said...

Anonymous said...
Hey John -- continue to stand up for creators and point out the misinformation that comes from Dear Leader Geist and the freeload crowd.

Dear Anonymous,

If you take the time to actually look into the views 'over there' you will find that many are very supportive of artists, sure there are are a few wingnuts, but we don't have a patent on that.

I'm all for Artists being paid for their work, just not so much the established distribution systems. I buy all the media I use, and only file share CC works.

I think there are new opportunities for Artists to use technology and new paradigms to get a bigger piece of the pie themselves. The media I do buy, I try to buy direct from the Artists so they keep 80% not 18% of the sale.

I also think the job the RIAA/MPAA/CRIA is doing is hurting Artists more than they help. Certainly, their behavior over the last decade has done nothing to endear consumers to the people they purport to represent.

Gene Simmons recently said, "Every little college kid, every freshly-scrubbed little kid's face should have been sued off the face of the earth. Take their homes, take their cars ...". Great PR there folks, and the **AA's do nothing but perpetuate this image. All the while throwing around ridiculous numbers of loss and calamity that even the government doesn't buy anymore.

Are there need for collective repositories, in some circumstances yes. But there are also other new opportunities out there.

So there you go, a rant from one of those 'freeloaders' from over at Herr Dr. Geist's site. Scary stuff huh?

Anonymous said...

"Hey John -- continue to stand up for creators and point out the misinformation that comes from Dear Leader Geist and the freeload crowd."

Let me make this crystal clear for all of you numbnuts who have this weird fetish for Geist in this debate. I do not support Geist, nor do I belong to the Fair Copyright movement. These are my own views!

Crockett said...


I'd love to come to your picnic. Let me know the date and time.

John said...


I don't doubt you support artists. On the other hand, if I had a dollar for every time I've heard some form of "Of course I believe artists should be paid for their work, but..." I wouldn't actually NEED to be paid for my creative work.

There is a little bit of the schoolyard bully to the construction of logic away over yonder. "I really like all the kids in the playground. I just wish they didn't make me want to knock them down so much."

So, you may have to just accept that a whole lot of professional creators are pretty tired of being pushed around by someone who claims to like them.

All that said, I intentionally did NOT name names of folks from the other side in my posting. My point is not about attacking back (or "counterattack"ing). It is about the atmosphere of anger that waits any artist who dares to poke up her head and say she likes strong copyright. I think the comments that have so far followed anonymous's go far to illustrate my point.

joeclark said...

Actually, you tend to be assailed for reiteration of already-discredited claims, e.g. adding education as a grounds for fair dealing automatically denies you and your friends the payments they seem to think are a birthright.

You are subject to criticism mostly because you’re wrong.

John said...

Mr. Clark,

I think it is just that kind of unfair characterization of creator positions that causes much of the unnecessary tension in the wider debate.

Show me where creators are claiming payment as a birthright.

The payment requested by creators from the education system is and always has been for actual use of work within the commercial context of a paid educational setting.

I point you to the CMEC website, which contains several bulletins on copyright and the CMEC request for a broad educational exception.

"education organizations seek a clear statement in the law
that all educational uses of publicly available Internet material are not infringements of

Such a statement in the law might reasonably require creators to make their work unavailable on the Internet or expect unlicensed uncompensated use in educational settings. That is unfair and a radical reframing of the content/education relationship.

We are told that the old business models don't apply anymore, yet we are expected to not adapt our copyright model to new educational practices.

Chris A said...

There's also a fair amount of attacking from the side of the creators, or at least those that claim to represent them. Claiming that everyone who is opposed to the some copyright idea as being against the creators and wanting to kill X does not help your cause. Not saying you do this, though to be honest it sometimes comes off this way.

With copyright and this who debate, no side is going to end up being happy. Or at least should not end up being happy. A true middle ground will make some people happy in some way, and other unhappy in other ways.

As for the education, I can see how it would be beneficial for education to be able to use what they want without having to worry about fees if it's posted in a public place. This of course does create a problems for the creators in that if they put something online, which is usually seen as making it public, then they would never get paid. A middle ground may be that teachers are allowed to reference the work online without paying a fee and use small parts of it, but over a certain amount they need to work with the creator to work out a fee (or the creator's representative).

For DRM, which is probably the issue I can most about in Bill C-32, it is currently very much slanted in favour of the publisher (I'm not going to use creator because, at the moment, I don't think it benefits creators either) and away from the consumer. It removes the ability for the consumer to make private copies and other things they are allowed to do based on the current draft of C-32. Now content publishers can use DRM if they wish to prevent copying as long as the means to break that DRM for any purpose that is allowed in the copyright law. This does not make it legal to break DRM in the cases of you wanting to give a copy to a friend or put it online because that does not count as private copying.

Crockett said...


It is true that things sometimes get passionate in this debate, on all sides. There are people with strong views (yours and mine included), some flexible, some not .

You say artists are tired of getting beat up if they support strong copyright, well consumers are also tired of getting beat up for desiring fair use. In this way everyone seems to have their backs up and it doesn't take long for tempers to flare.

I see it this way. Artists blame file sharers for copying their works and pass that anger onto consumers in general. Consumers blame the RIAA and their ilk for their questionable tactics and pass that anger onto Artists. Comments by high profile Artists like Gene Simmons or antics from groups like 4chan don't help either side.

Respect given is respect earned, this is something that is too often forgotten. Also the willingness to see others points of view must be in play or this type of tit for tat will go on ad nauseum.

I suggest we both tone down the rhetoric and actually make the effort to hear what the other is saying. Let's dispense with both the 'fair use advocates are all freeloaders' and the 'artists are all social fascists' nonsense.

Maybe we'll get somewhere ...

Crockett said...


"I think the comments that have so far followed anonymous's go far to illustrate my point."

This thinking also illustrates my point. Anonymous's initial comment attacking the fair use side led to the responses from the same. You can't say do for one side and don't for the other. Otherwise it's a lecture not a debate.

Sandy Crawley said...

Thanks for the nod John. And I would like to echo your plug for the D'Agostino book. It provides a really clear historical focus on self-employed writers' relationships with publishers under the laws as they change and is a real spur to policy development for the next copyright bill, just in case the current proposal flounders...

Crockett said...

John, I do have an observation that you might want to be aware of. Recently we had quite an exchange over the fact that had mechanisms for making comments on articles yet they never seemed to appear. This, as you know, turned out to be a server issue. So, as you suggested, I did some research and found that also asks for comments (of which I left a few) but two days later are nowhere to be seen. As a matter of fact there seems to be no comments at all logged to any of the articles, yours included. I wonder if they are using the same server?

John said...


I'm not sure what the problem is that you encountered at BCFC. Since I don't host or sponsor or own that website, I'm not really privy to how they manage comments. That said, I just left a comment myself, so it seems to be working just fine.

They do ask you to sign in, because they prefer verified comments, which is certainly their right.

Not sure if you're aware, but the vast majority of BCFC discussion goes on freely, unverified and unmoderated at their Facebook group. Not only are all the standard and predictable anti-copyright comments allowed to stand, but because of the determined effort of a few regular BCFC haters, the anti-BCFC can sometimes outnumber the pro.

Nevertheless discussion (and BCFC membership) continues to flourish.

All that said, I really think you missed the point of my criticism over at the Geist site. I found one of Geist's postings to be quite objectionable and personally offensive. I told him so in a detailed comment that started a wide-ranging conversation. I even blogged about it over here, which started another conversation.

When Geist cross-posted the original piece to the pristine new ACTA site, it showed as having 0 comments.

The post was sanitized for international consumption. That, my dedicated friend, is exceedingly dishonest play.

Unknown said...

Cut the crap John - you do not, and have never supported the artists.

If you really supported the artists, you would be backing my submission to the copyright consultation, which had as it's central point making copyright ownership non-transferable except by inheritance. Prove you support the artists, but making it impossible for the Corporate Copyright Scofflaws to take control of the artists copyrights.

Crockett said...

Hmm, signed in with my Facebook account but still no comments showing up. All articles say 0 comments. Strange, maybe it takes a day or two.

@Degen "All that said, I really think you missed the point of my criticism over at the Geist site. I found one of Geist's postings to be quite objectionable and personally offensive. I told him so in a detailed comment that started a wide-ranging conversation. I even blogged about it over here, which started another conversation.

When Geist cross-posted the original piece to the pristine new ACTA site, it showed as having 0 comments."

John, before you tell me I'm just defending Geist, this is actually a point of logic. NO posts were transferred over to the actawatch site. If it was just your thread singled out, yes that would be suspect. Choosing to not transfer all posts that were attached to all the various different articles (that had their own pro and con posts), on the other hand, is just a site design decision.