Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Canadian Copyright and the threat to our intellectual freedom

Once again, the Canadian government is attempting to tackle its elusive copyright laws. Until Sept. 13, there is a "public" (and I use the term very loosely) consultation process.

You should be shaking in your boots.

"As an instrument of public policy, the Copyright Act has two primary objectives: to encourage the creation and dissemination of original works, and to promote access to knowledge for the benefit of Canadian society as a whole."
-- Canadian Library Association, 2008.

As Micheal Geist, Canada research chair in internet and e-commerce law, clearly states we need, "...copyright laws that look ahead, rather than behind." Yet, the current consultative process shows that the deck is stacked tightly in favour of corporate interests.

On August 28th, Now Magazine, an independent weekly from the streets of Toronto, publishes a story, "The town hall that didn't invite the town," that questions a recent town hall meeting that included chair and industry minister, Tony Clement. Discussion was clearly focused on the interests of the music industry and seemed suspiciously rigged to favour conservative views (view the meeting here).

On August 27, Geist suggested that the electronic copyright consultation process (that we are ALL invited to participate in) (CCER Submission Form Service) may be tampered with. For more information see Geist's August 27th blog entry.

So where is our national library leadership in all of this? Today, as a write, I comb the Canadian Library Association website and see nothing dealing with the issue of copyright reform. This matter should be FRONT and CENTRE this month, considering that our ability to consult ends on the 13th. Meetings have been slow to manifest and the library community has been somewhat quiet on this front.

As a "library" person, I have some concerns...

1. There would be a three strikes and you ar OUT rule. Guilty until proven innocent. If an external agency accuses you of "stealing" copyrighted material electronically, you can be shut down by your ISP without an option to prove your innocence. Right now, you can be warned but the onus is on the accuser to prove your guilt before the "plug" can be yanked.

Just think of how easy it would be for an organization to get rid of "pesky" people.

2. Fair Dealing - there seems to be a more constricted interpretation in the new Bill. This means that rather than expand the nature of research and creative exploration, fair dealing is more limited.

3. The Bill says: "The patron receiving the electronically transmitted material could not make permanent copies, digital or otherwise, other than a single print copy, and could not distribute it further. Electronic access to the material would terminate after five business days. The library must ensure that only the intended recipients receive the protected material and that they abide by other conditions set out in the provisions."

This means libraries would have to:
a) ensure that the correct recipient gets materials
b) ensure that the protected material be eliminated after 5 business days
c) ensure the patron can not make duplicates

In addition, the act states that it will have a regulation that will tell libraries how these points will be dealt with.
Worried yet? OK, how about this one:

4. There will be a blanket clause preventing anyone from circumventing ANY digital locks.
How does this enhance innovation????

Last year, the CLA outlined many more issues that are well articulated in their statement. So have a look, if you are interested. Unlocking the Public Interest.

It is a quagmire of legal-speak when trying to sift through the legislation and much of the debate around it. Be careful at the resources you look at and cast your net far and wide to get a feel for the potential ramifications of copyright change.

For instance, extending copyright protection might seem like a simple and helpful change for creators but is it? The ability to extend copyright ownership protects corporate ownership and diminishes our chances of things ever becoming public domain. Look at the "Happy Birthday" example. This melody was written by two sisters in 1893 and words later appeared in 1912 with no designated writer. In 1935 the Summy Company registered it and in 1990 Warner Chappell bought the rights when it bought Summy. Copyright expires in 2030. (see Robert Brauneiss' paper, "Copyright and the World's Most Popular Song").

Without permission (and a cheque) and you publicly perform the song, you are in violation of the law. So, in such cases, who's creative interest is protected?

Click here to request a license to use the song. You might need it someday. In fact, you will probably need it sometime in the next year!

So, where does it all end? It doesn't. However, our freedoms might so speak out, read up on it and talk about it!

As one astute CBC member says, "after i get paid to build you a staircase i cannot charge you every time you let a friend use them."

Side note: Don't believe everything you hear from the Conference Board of Canada. They had to retract their support of tighter copyright laws when Micheal Geist publicly accused them of plagiarizing their support statement from the International Intellectual Property Alliance.

Ahhh...the irony.


Unknown said...

"4. There will be a blanket clause preventing anyone from circumventing ANY digital locks.
How does this enhance innovation????"

Quick and easy answer: it doesn't.

These rules are being designed to mirror the DMCA which is very adamant in making it impossible to 'own' any media content you did not create. In other words, it's not only innovation that may be stifled, but even our ability to critically think and critique may be put at risk, as technically, the creator of this video, while safe under 'fair use' of the media is likely guilty of the 'lockbreaking' part of the code.

Beyond that, the clause is a pure money-grab. As this comic points out, encrypted media is not yours to own. (WARNING: while the linked comic is worksafe, xkcd is not a comic always suitable for all ages or work situations). While it is true much music can now be purchased DRM-free, there are still plenty of media works only offered under DRM-encryption. Is it fair to ask that a person repurchase their entire media collection each time they purchase a new device? Should the DVD I bought for my own personal use not be allowed to be transferred to the flash-based video player and enjoyed for my own personal use?

Geist also has a site here, which is linked from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Since it looks like the Canadian laws are going to be closely mimicking the DMCA, the EFF is also a useful source, showing what issues have already arisen from these types of rules.

I know, long and rambling, but this is an issue that gets me going. :)

Christina Neigel said...

As you can see, it gets me going too! We have to speak out and talk about this or we risk being muzzled once these laws are enacted.

On October 13th at 12 pm in B121, we are screening RIP: A Remix Manifesto...come see it and be provoked further!

Unknown said...


Well, I've tweeted and blogged to my limited but non-library related audience. Part of the problem, however, is good old ignorance+apathy: I don't know how it's going to affect me, so I don't care.

Or as Richard Stallman (founder of GNU -- you've probably seen the license agreements -- and the Free Software Foundation) put it: "Value your freedom or you will lose it, teaches history. "Don't bother us with politics," respond those who don't want to learn."

The problem is that people see this as 'just politics'. They don't realise that it goes beyond that, into their everyday lives.

We don't necessarily need to go so far as eliminating copyright, but we can't assume that the law will protect the public good. After all, if it's hard for us to understand it all and the ramifications, your average MP probably doesn't understand much more. And they won't, as long as they only hear the industry's side of the story.

Stephen K said...

Kudos for posting this. I think that the more exposure this issue gets the better. It's hard to believe that in this day and age we still have to fight for intellectual and information freedom.

I'm on the listservs of a couple of pretty cool BCLA groups, the Intellectual Freedom Committee and the Information Policy Committee. They both have websites on the BCLA site. You have to be a BCLA member to be on the member directory or to get involved, but not to join the listservs.