Friday, January 21, 2011

today in school, I learned that I'm an "extortionist"

Have you seen the commercial where the guy drops his smart phone in the urinal and then reaches in to retrieve it? Right now, I'm the incredulous guy standing at the next urinal, watching in utter dismay.


I have just finished reading a book review over at the Canadian Association of University Teacher's website, and I feel an overwhelming need to wash my hands... and eyes, my computer and, frankly, my diplomas.

Everything I've previously written about a very organized creator-unfriendly campaign from one corner of the educational sector (see my last posting for a comprehensive listing of links) has made me just a wee bit queasy with myself, because I've liked and admired almost every university professor who ever taught me. This makes my current state of respect-withdrawal rather painful.

So, some quick details:

The book review is of Professor Michael Geist's recent speed-edited collection of essays on Bill C-32 "From ‘Radical Extremism’to ‘Balanced Copyright’: Canadian Copyright and the Digital Agenda." This is the volume you can see Prof. Geist waving about in his commercial, I mean testimony, before the C-32 Committee.

One could be forgiven, I think, for expecting some sort of critical engagement with the text in a book review, especially in an academic context. Oh well. The CAUT review, written by York University music prof Jay Rahn fills the space below a jpeg of the book's cover with little more than the all too familiar attack on professional content creators. I quote:

"University and college teachers might assume the bill’s addition of “education” to the list of fair-dealing exceptions provides a carte-blanche privilege to copy copyrighted works willy-nilly. Indeed, propaganda efforts of lobby groups funded by multinational publishers have already spread this misinformation throughout Canada in op-ed pieces in large-circulation newspapers."

...Notwithstanding the misinformation campaigns of publishers and what some have termed the “copyright-collective industry,” which includes staffers and hired-gun lawyers who propose tariffs at the Copyright Board, whether or not Bill C-32 passes in its present form might well be of little direct consequence to teaching at Canadian universities.

It's important to understand that CAUT and much of Canada's post-secondary education system are currently in a tariff dispute with Access Copyright, Canada's Copyright Licensing Agency. This dispute is rather like a collective bargaining negotiation with Access Copyright representing the workers and CAUT et al representing the bosses.

As a non-staffer or hired-gun lawyer of the "copyright-collective industry," who regularly speaks out for strong creator copyright protection, all I can say is... really?

It gets worse:

Why would CAUT publish such a one-sided, unbalanced non-review promoting a highly politicized view of copyright reform? Do they have a stated position on copyright reform in Canada?

Well, look at that, yes they do:

CAUT's Copyright Consultation Submission

You can see that submission, and a great deal more of CAUT's policy statements on copyright and intellectual property on the CAUT website. Those materials include a 2006 podcast of, yes, Professor Michael Geist addressing a CAUT conference on copyright in Ottawa. In this address, Geist makes fun of CanCopy (now Access Copyright) on his way to proposing "a new vision for copyright" and states that "CAUT is in a great position to be one of the leaders in that regard."

Let me quote briefly from the CAUT submission:

"CAUT therefore recommends that the Act’s fair dealing provisions be amended to state “Fair dealing for purposes such as research, private study, criticism, review or news reporting does not infringe copyright” and to enumerate the fair-dealing factors described in the CCH case (again as non-exclusive factors). The important inclusion of the words “such as” would reflect the view that the categories are no longer rigid, limited and exclusive, but are better understood as broad and open-ended,"

Anyone following the copyright debate will recognize that recommendation as one of Michael Geist's own recommendations. He has long advocated that Canada "expand the current list of fair dealing exceptions by making it illustrative rather than exhaustive."

And worse:

But what really makes me want to go and have a shower is the complete lack of disclosure by CAUT, Professor Rahn and Prof. Geist (who has gleefully tweeted about the review today). I mean, an attack on "propaganda" and "hired-gun lawyers" should, at the very least, let the reader know of the complex network of interests behind that attack. Something... anything... maybe a little paragraph at the end pointing out that just about everyone involved in that academic book review is pretty much holding hands.

For instance, one of the essayists in Geist's book is Sam Trosow, another professor deeply involved in CAUT's IP policy making. Professor Trosow has filed at least one affidavit in support of CAUT's interventions against Access Copyright in tariff disputes. In fact, Geist, Trosow and fellow anti-AC crusader Howard Knopf are the principal sources for CAUT's recent IP Advisory on C-32. I'll go out on a limb and guess that both Trosow and Geist actually had a hand in writing CAUT's Copyright Consultation Submission.

Another of Geist's recent essayists is fellow University of Ottawa professor Elizabeth Judge. Prof. Judge also contributed to Geist's earlier copyright volume In the Public Interest: The Future of Canadian Copyright Law, as did Sam Trosow. Interestingly, Professor Judge also sits on the four-person Working Group on Copyright for the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences; a working group chaired by none other than the author of the book review, Professor Jay Rahn.

Sad to say, I and my fellow professional creators are getting very used to some of the dirty tricks and nasty attacks in this collective bargaining moment. We're used to being called shills for the entertainment industry, lobbyists (said with a sneer), members of the copyright cartel, astroturfers, propagandists, liars, jailers, confiscators, extortionists* and a whole host of other nasty names. I'm even getting used to the fact that many of these attacks come straight from a university I paid good money to attend.

But, can y'all do us a solid and - at least - take off the masks before you bludgeon us.

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* I picked up this nice one today, on the blog of Athabaska University assistant prof of literary studies Mark A. McCutcheon - thanks Professor McCutcheon! Does that make you an assistant prof of "extortion" studies?


Crockett said...


I have to agree with your articles's assessment, there are good boy clubs everywhere it seems.

For another example of one sided 'hand holding' journalism see:


Unknown said...

But what really makes me want to go and have a shower is the complete lack of disclosure by CAUT, Professor Rahn and Prof. Geist (who has gleefully tweeted about the review today).
Agreed. The lack of disclosure on all sides is disturbing. You would think that those giving testimony in parliament or to a parliamentary committee should, under oath, declare their interest.


Unknown said...

Hum, Knopf tweeted this article:

@howardknopf: Degen digs deeper into desperate denunciation disguised as debate

Warren said...

Hey, I like the letter of the day on Sesame Street just as much as the next guy. But surely the lawyer that writes at great length imploring somebody... ANYBODY who is considering taking up an appeal of Access Copyright’s Interim Tariff to “immediately consult counsel” before the “looming” deadline isn’t turning around and calling John’s reasoned writing “desperate.” If so, that’s really remarkably ridiculous. We’ll need more than a 9 word tweet to explain that curt and curious criticism.

Unknown said...


Don't have a clue. Knopf posted it, and I passed it along to make sure that John would know about it.

As you may have noticed, I disagree with everybody ;)


Anonymous said...

@Mad Hatter

Ah Howard has discovered aliteration, how sweet.

But about disclosure. I don't believe those opposed to the CAUT/Geist position who are working in tandem to improve the bill are hiding their mutual concerns. Indeed, those of us who see the danger to creativity and intellectual productivity in Canada have been working together on it. And yes, we employ our staff and consultants in that effort. There's no mask on this side.

Sandy Crawley said...

That last post was from me, not Anonymous.

Sandy Crawley
Executive Director

Unknown said...


I was specifically pointing at people like Barry Sookman, who is a paid lobbyist for the CRIA. Barry has every right to lobby for the CRIA, however when he is interviewed by the media, or testifies before Parliament, he doesn't mention the CRIA connection.

A lack of disclosure in a case like this, leaves me with the impression that Barry is a liar. Geist has also been accused of being paid for working on this. Unlike Sookman, who refused to say if he was paid, when asked Geist stated that he was not paid.

You are in a different position, as is John. You are open about your interests, and while I may not agree with everything you say, you have an honest reason for being involved.