Fair Copyright group expands across Canada

Arguably the biggest factor in causing the government’s delay of a controversial copyright reform bill last month was the grassroots effort by thousands of Canadians on Facebook. Now, that effort is expanding virtually all across the country.

Last December, Michael Geist – research chair of Internet and e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa – launched the Fair Copyright Facebook group to rally Canadians in support for fairly balanced copyright legislation. Geist’s primary motivation was to bring to light an impending Conservative government bill, entitled “An Act to amend the Copyright Act,” which had been listed as an order of business just prior to the government’s winter break.

But seemingly due to the group’s incredible popularity – which now has almost 40,000 members – Industry Minister Jim Prentice decided to delay proposal of the bill until at least later this month when the House of Commons is back in session.

The word from Geist and others industry watchers had the impending bill being compared to the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). These comparisons stem from rumours that it included anti-circumvention provisions for technical provision measures (TPMs), a tool used to restrict the use of a digital work, which would make it illegal to modify, improve, back-up or make products that interact with any devices fitted with TPMs.

“Obviously the national Facebook group has gotten a lot of media attention and some people might even say this is what made the government think twice about introducing the bill before the Christmas break, but ultimately to have a real effect and make politicians pay attention we need to bring this movement locally,” Steve Woodrow, founder of the Winnipeg/Manitoba Fair Copyright chapter, said.

And that’s exactly what many like Woodrow have been doing, with at least 13 regional chapters of Geist’s Facebook group popping up on the social networking site. The primary motivation to expand, for many of the region group founders, was the ability to plan local rallies and gatherings.

“The national Facebook group has been a great success, however, it has expanded to become so large it is nearly impossible to use the group as an effective means of communication to coordinate efforts at a local level,” Jason Crocker, founder of Toronto’s local group, said. “This is where the idea of local chapters comes into play. It is the role of each local chapter to organize local events, facilitate meetings with area Members of Parliament, and educate their communities about fair copyright.”

Crocker said that creating regional chapters will strengthen the movement’s presence offline as well as in the virtual world – indicating that there is no better motivation for an MP to act on an issue than to encourage them at a face-to-face, grassroots level.

“The establishment of the local chapters is going to take all the ongoing efforts in the Facebook group to real-world communities and schools,” Crocker said. “I think that this synergy between online and real-world education and activism will prove to be very successful at raising public awareness. Many MPs are driven by local, grass-roots movements more so than national letter-writing and e-mail campaigns.

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