Green Party on copyright:  responses from Dan Grice (Vancouver Quadra candidate)

Last Saturday, independent MP Blair Wilson announced that he will be sitting as a member of the Green Party of Canada.This is historic as it is the first Green Party member in a federallegislature in one of those few countries still using the First Pastthe Post voting system.

The Green Party will be taken more seriously because they have asmany seats as the Reform party did prior to the 1993 election. Prior tothat election their only sitting member was Deborah Grey who won in a1989 by-election. During this election the Reform party won 52 seats.

With this in mind, people have been asking to hear more about their positions on copyright and related issues.

The Green Party has extensive policy documents which support Network Neutrality and Open source computer software. I didn’t see in my most recent look the type of digital copyright issues we might like to read about.

Copyright is an issue that comes down to the experience andjudgement of individual members of parliament. While the parties mayhave policy and platform, this can change with the election of peoplewith specific experience as happened with the NDP (see: Canada’s Copyright party is … the NDP?).

Dan Grice is the Green Party Candidate for Vancouver Quadra. His current job is as a Business Technology Consultant / Internet Web through his company VanAlive Communications.Given his technical background, it is great that he responded rightaway when I sent messages asking for comments from candidates.

I sent him the same set of questions I sent other candidatesrecently, with him deciding to comment more on software business modelsthan other candidates have been able to.

Dan: I have no authority to officially answer on behalf of theparty, but the following are my own answers guided by Green Partypolicy plus my own opinions.

Russell: Where do you stand on the benefit or threat of new media/technology?

Dan: I believe that new media and digital technology haveprovided a great opportunity for artists and producers to reach agreater mass and for consumers to enjoy artistic creation in new ways.

The focus of any legislation should not be on maintaining anarrow distribution model enforced by digital locks and threats ofprosecution, but to put in place proper mechanisms to ensure performersand content producers are fairly compensated for use of their art worksand to create licensing mechanisms which allow consumers to use themfor personal purposes.

Russell: Do you believe that the tools which provide the primarymeans of production and distribution of knowledge should be under thecontrol of private citizens, or some third party? If a third party, whoshould that party be? If citizens, would you endorse our petition?

One way to make copyright less complex and far less controversial isto have it focus on public activities, and less on activities (such asthe creation of personal copies) which modern technology has madeprivate. Private activities such as time, device and format shifting oflawfully acquired content, could be carved out of copyright though aliving Fair Use regime.

Dan: As citizens, it is advantageous to promote as much freedomin how and what we can share as possible, and how we can use theinformation. (The Green Party believes this is essential toparticipatory democracy) If there are limitations (such as the blockingof known child porn web hosts), then the decision need to be donethrough an elected body that is responsible to citizens.

When it comes to content, I don’t support copyright legislationthat blocks how an individual uses content they have purchased or thatobstructs individuals from having the right to modify or possesscontent for personal use. I oppose legislation that would punishindividuals for modifying content they have licensed to use, to backup, transport, or convert it to a new format.

I do support fair copyright, where public usage of content orcontent distributed as part of a commercial transaction may havelimitations, as no one has the right to earn profits off of another’slabour or art form without their consent.

I also feel that those who distribute content without permissionshould be liable to the creator for compensation, but this should notbe punitive except where a malicious violation occurs.

Russell: Would you support or reject the idea of carving out private activities from copyright?

Dan: I would support exempting private activities. I think therecan be some confusion between public and private activities when thereis file sharing or public postings of content that must be addressed.

Russell: Many people see Copyright in terms of a balance betweenrights articulated in the United Nations Universal Declaration of HumanRights: 17. Property (tangible), 19. Expression , 26. Education, 27.Cultural and Creators’ rights.

How well do you feel we have balanced these rights so far?

Dan: Traditionally we had done a good job, but I think thattechnology evolved faster than creator’s rights and as such we need toensure that content creators are fairly compensated for use of theirworks in a way that does not limit technology or future usage.

Russell: Is there a specific balance that makes sense to “harmonize”internationally, or is there a right balance for each country, or foreach different stage of development?

Dan: Countries have the opportunity to ensure that their owncontent producers are fairly compensated and that broad treaties arebeneficial to ensuring that countries can allow their own contentproducers to have international experience.

These arrangement should be made through democratic institutionsand not through corporate alliances such as the WTO or other broadbased international pacts.

In Canada, I would say it may be beneficial for the government tohave a small levy on telecommunications usage go to support contentproducers and to make it easier for Canadians to get exposed to theirown culture..

Russell: Domestically, do you believe that Canada has had the rightbalance in the past, and the right balance with recently proposedlegislation?

Dan: Our legislation was balanced but unequipped to deal withdigital media. Currently proposed legislation is faulty in failing toprotect private usage and for relying upon a draconian limitation ontools used for content manipulation. It also does little to supportartists and content producers and is far from a holistic approach.

Russell: Many different types of creativity can be covered bycopyright. While some can be considered art and entertainment, some area memory prosthesis (most common use of many types of recordings:photographs, audio, movies), and some is functional (computer software,scientific/medical knowledge, etc). Much of the discussion and policyaround copyright presumes that copyright only or even primarilyregulates commercially created art and entertainment.

Dan: The questions blends copyright and patent law. Both need tobe updated. I don’t think Canada has been vocal and our position upuntil this point has had very little impact on the rest of the world.

Patent, copyright, and trademarking all need to be modernized.Government can take a role in identifying ways in which we can protectcreative activities or intellectual discoveries without hinderingfuture technology or content creation. As a MP, I would look at ways toensure creators are compensated and that our technology and artisticcommunities have stable funding, as well as looking at various contentlicensing models and work to find a better balance between contentproducers and consumers.

Russell: Should Canada be providing legal protection or other encouragement for digital locks on content and/or devices?

Dan: I don’t believe digital locks should be encouraged forlimiting which devices a content can be used on. At the same time, I dorealize that some business models (such as software) require protectionagainst unlicensed copying and others (such as movie rentals) use locksto offer consumers the ability to lease content for short terms.

Government has a role in defining whether locks are being used to facilitate usage or to limit it.

Russell: There are alternative methods of production anddistribution, such as peer production and peer distribution, which donot rely on counting copies or collecting royalties. This reducescopyright infringement by royalty-free licensing what citizens want todo, leaving a few commercial companies as potential infringers. Whilethese methods do not work for all creativity, there are some such suchas software (Free/Libre and Open Source Software) andeducational/scientific/medical knowledge (Open Access) where this isthe fastest growing part of that sector.

Dan: I would support the creation of an alternative licensingarrangement where content producers are financially awarded based ondifferent criteria. (An interesting licensing arrangement alreadyexists for radio stations who pay a flat fee to license content.) Thiswould allow content producers to opt-in and be compensated based on anon-transactional model.

However, we also have to be realistic on the limitations of FLOSSsoftware and its distribution model. Very few peer-to-peer or opensource business models have shown to generate enough revenue to supportcomplicated development structures. For example, if it was not for ahigh license rate that Adobe charged, we would not have seen as highquality graphics tools exist. The FLOSS model is better suited forinstances where a high amount of customization or servicing is requiredand the core software is a foundation for other tools.

Russell: Do you think Canada should be supporting and promotingalternative royalty-free methods of production and distribution wherepossible?

Dan: Yes. I agree that we should support and promote analternative model. I am personally interested in using gateway accessfees to be distributed based on some quantifiable viewership model.

That being said, there will always be a necessity for some sortof royalty limitations and intermediary status. I just feel that ourefforts our best put into increasing base funding to artists andcontent producers.

Russell: What policies would you promote in order to protect theinterests of the growing number of creators who are independent oftraditional copyright-holding intermediaries?

Dan: I would like to see the Canadian government use existingagencies such as the CBC and others to deliver content to Canadians,with a fair compensation scheme going back to artists and adecentralized version of shows.

We must stress that it is no good to any content producer or consumer if quality content is not produced.

Russell: I have offered my own thoughts on a post-industrial era in an article titled “Key question about the shape of the knowledge economy.”

In your mind, is the relationship of knowledge in the knowledgeeconomy like products in the industrial economy, or is knowledge in theknowledge economy like machines in the industrial economy?

Dan: It is both. Some technology serves to create othertechnology (such as FLOSS), where as digital content is often afinalized product meant to be enjoyed as is.

Russell: How would you differentiate your views on copyright or related policies from other candidates in the riding?

Dan: I hope they share mine. I don’t think this is a partisanissue as much as it is ensuring that a balance between faircompensation for content producers and fair usage to ensure thatlicensing and copyright does not impede on technological development.

I asked Dan for some quick clarifications on some answers, and he offered the following.

Dan: I’ve been involved with software development in the past andrealize the need to secure ones product is real. When you have a 4 or 5person team (or more) working in production, you need to be able tohave a business model that is sustainable.

Open source software can be excellent, (ie linux is top of class)but most free software only exists because there was a paidalternative. I can’t imagine this actually being an issue at the doorsteps, but if it was, there is a balance required between allowingcreators to protect their intellectual property, and using patent orcopyright legislation to block technological advances.

The first thing we need to do is separate digital tools from entertainment in this discussion.

Most music and movies on their own do little to advance humanknowledge so there is little altruistic point from justifying them asbeing part of a knowledge economy. The only real issue with DRM isdevice lock in and transferring your music assets from one platform toanother. I find that DRM is hardly justified for low risk purchasessuch as music and that content licensees should have the right toutilize third party tools to backup or enable the content to play onanother device.

I feel that many consumers, if given the option of buyingsomething for a low price in a convenient matter, will gladly pay andthat content piracy existed because content producers took forever tocreate an internet based distribution system.

On a scale of issues, a locked down song is hardly a threat tohumanity which is why I don’t take a strong stance on supporting oreliminating DRM. Compared to patented, genetically modified crops,music legislation should be low on the priority list. The currentcopyright legislation went far over board and attempted to criminalizeusing tools for personal usage or fining mere possession of anon-licensed media, which I strictly oppose. However, at the same time,I think that a content producer has the right to put reasonablelimitations on usage of the media.

With higher end tools and software, it is a far differentdiscussion. You asked whether under a knowledge economy would we bebetter off if knowledge and tools were more accessible and affordable.I would say YES. I would also say that there is a balance needed. If weeliminated proprietary technology, patents, and software protection, wecould likely end up with an economy where no innovation occurred andwhere the pace of technological growth slowed. If we get rid of thecarrots ($$$) often secured by software lock down, we may riskeliminating the incentive. This does not mean that I think the patentlaw is by any means complete and does not do its own bit to limittechnology growth.

I’ve used software where the license is a few thousand dollarsper seat, but where the scope of usage is so limited that there is noway they producer could have produced it without a reasonable rate ofreturn.

I think the relevant topic for me, as a Canadian, is not how towe use DRM or whether or not these locks should exist, but how to wemaximize innovation and how do we ensure our content producers cancompete and survive in a global economy. For me, this means changes toour tax laws and increasing base funding for arts and technologysectors, improving our education system, and working to promotealternative channels for distribution. It also means protecting smallcompanies from being bullied by large companies, and fixing patent lawto remove patents which are overarching and describe common items.

I also think the Green Parties policy regarding FLOSS isexcellent, in which we would ensure that no proprietary software isrequired to do business with the government,