Is there a copy left vs copy right?

When I first heard a group outside ofthe Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) orCreative Commons movement use the word “CopyLeft”, Ithought they were simply using the term incorrectly. (See: Independentauthors just wanting a little respect… from fellow creators andcollective societies from 2006)

In the FLOSS movement itmeans something similar to ShareAlikewith Creative Commons: the license says the copyrighted work can befreely shared (without additional permission/payment) as long as anyderivatives are equally shared. The licensing model is not opposedto copyright in any way, and focuses on material rewards in the formof additional creative works rather than royalties.

I continue to hear the term”copy left” used, sometimes by those who consider it apositive term, but more often by people who are trying to use theterm in a derogatory manner. In this context the term is not beingused to reference to a licensing model, but a political philosophy.

This suggests that the term”copy left” references a liberal creators' rightsphilosophy, and the “copy right” refers to a conservativecreators' rights philosophy. It is only a coincidence that those onthe “copy left” also support CopyLeft style licensing.

One thing I have noticed isthat in politics one isn't necessarily conservative or liberal in allareas of their lives. I consider myself a social liberal, but fiscalconservative. On environmental policy I consider myself aconservationist, which could be considered a form of conservativecompared to a person who is liberal and thinks that the resources ofthe planet are infinite.

In order to be as unbiased aspossible in finding meaning in the terms copy left and copy right, Ithink a encyclopedia definition is a good start.Wikipedia:Conservatism“Conservatism (Latin:conservare, “to preserve”) is apolitical and social philosophy that promotes the maintenance oftraditional institutions and opposes rapid change in society. Someconservatives seek to preserve things as they are, emphasizingstability and continuity, while others oppose modernism and seek areturn to “the way things were”.Wikipedia:LiberalismLiberalism (from the Latinliberalis, “of freedom”) is the belief in the importance ofliberty and equality. Liberals espouse a wide array of viewsdepending on their understanding of these principles, but mostliberals support such fundamental ideas as constitutions, liberaldemocracy, free and fair elections, human rights, capitalism, freetrade, and the separation of church and state.

So a conservative creators'rights advocate would be one trying to maintain traditionalpublishing and distribution institutions, and oppose to embracing therapid changes in business models and methods of communication that issparked by new communications technology.

A liberal creators' rightsadvocate would be uninterested in maintaining traditional methods ofproduction, distribution and funding of creativity, but would beespousing a full spectrum of methods.

With this as a context, manyof the conversations I have had over the past 9 years that I havebeen involved in copyright policy start to make sense. While anyindividual creator may position themselves anywhere on that politicalspectrum, understanding that spectrum helps to make sense why twoindividuals fighting for creators' rights may find themselvesdisagreeing with each other more than they disagree with someone whoisn't fighting for creators' rights.

(Note: Apologies to the users'rights advocates who may be reading this. As I am a creators' rightsadvocate, this is my focus. A similar analysis can be done withusers' rights advocates, with some of the educational communityfocused on education institutional exceptions fitting closer into theconservatism definition).

So, what am I? Anyone who hasread articles I have written would know I am a liberal creators'rights advocate. I hadn't realized this until recently as I thoughtthe term “copy left” was being used in a derogatory way byfellow creators' rights advocates, but I now feel proud to be sayingthis.

I believe in a full spectrumof methods of production, distribution and funding of creativity thatincludes historical institutions, but that is no longer dominated bythem. In some cases, such as the major label recording industry,major broadcasters/BDU's, and major software manufacturers, I amrooting for what I hope will be an inevitably fade from theirhistorical dominance. I consider this to be a positive evolutionthat will mean better material and moral rewards for individualcreators, who will finally after so long be able to make their owndecisions and choose their own destinies.

None of the policy proposals Ihave made for copyright would remove traditional options from thosecreators who wish to chose those options. I wish that all creatorscould agree to policies that would allow all of us to co-exist andbecome successful using a full spectrum of options.

I recognize that there areother creators, often closely associated with long standing creatorgroups, that strongly disagree with this viewpoint. Like otherpolitical philosophies that have a spectrum of beliefs, those withopposing beliefs will tend to have opposing policy proposals or evendifferent criteria for success. I would consider it a failure ofcopyright reform if what it did was protect the incumbentinstitutions from change, rather than protecting the interests of awider range of creators.

With these tools in hand, wecan go through some sample organizations and see where their policiesand talking points put them on that political scale. Please beaware that individuals within these organizations may have differentor even incompatible political philosophies from the executive, so Ican only speak about the people claiming to be spokespersons or theofficial policy of the organizations.FairCopyright For CanadaLiberal: While my impression is that the most active participants in thisgroup are creators' rights advocates, they are liberal enough to havecreators and non-creators all together discussing in the same group.CLUE: Canada's Association forOpen SourceLiberal:Like Fair Copyright for Canada, this group is a mixture of people whoconsider themselves primarily authors of software and those who arestrictly software users. What brings them together is an interest inthe usage of software that uses liberal licensing terms.Canadian MusicCreators CoalitionCenter-left: While they advocate for stronger composer and performer collectivesocieties, including more compulsory licensing schemes, they alsootherwise endorse a full spectrum of options outside of thoseactivities covered by the compulsory licensing.Creators'Copyright CoalitionConservative:All it takes is a quick look at the articles on their site to seethat they are focused on maintaining existing institutions andbusiness methods. The individuals I hear using the term “copyleft” to refer to some “other” tend to be activemembers of this coalition, so I can only assume that they would behappy to be acknowledged to be creators' rights conservatives.Canadian Recording IndustryAssociationConservative, byrequirement: I don't believe that CRIA has a choice but topromote conservative copyright values as they are one of thosetraditional institutions that is under radical change. (See bottomof: Differentiatingallies and opponents in the Copyright debate) Clearly inorder for them to survive they need to somehow return things to “theway they were”. I think they have picked bad allies in this,but that is unimportant for trying to place them on a policyspectrum.BalancedCopyright for CanadaConservative:While we are only slowly learning who is behind this group, theirpolicy proposals are clearly conservative in nature. It is alsoimportant to recognize that many individuals who have been seen asspokespersons for the Creators' Copyright Coalition have endorsed theviews of this group, further suggesting they are pushing compatibleconservative creators' rights values

There are some individualsworth noting.

While on a scale from acopyright minimalist to copyright maximalist I would put Michael Geistin the centre, on this scale I would put him more center-left. Herecognizes a full spectrum of creators, but is not as quick as othersto dismiss the relevance of some of the traditional institutions. Hehas been instrumental in convincing me to no longer reject WIPO as an institution,and to instead look at ways that existing treaties can be interpretedmore centrist, and a possible future WIPO that itself becomes morecentrist. Maybe over time Mr. Geist will continue to move me closerto the center-left.

Interestingly, someconservative creators' rights advocates do not even recognize MichaelGeist as a creators rights advocate as he is a lawyer. (His bookignored) These same people will recognize and promotelawyers such as JamesGannon or BarrySookman whose clients and policies are clearlyconservative.

When I first met him years agoI would have put JohnDegen, then head of the Professional Writers Association inCanada, on the center-right. I believe over time (and whenever abill is tabled) he tends to focus on more conservative creators'rights views. There has been quite a bit of heated discussionsbetween him and people associated with Fair Copyright for Canada andits chapters. In various discussions he has been quick to labelanyone even slightly to the left of his views as representing the”copy left”, and I always get the feeling the term isintended to be derogatory.

Highly successful Canadianscience fiction author and creators' rights activist Cory Doctorow ison the center-left-left. While he still makes sure he keeps hispublisher in business, he is one of the most cited examples infiction literature of someone being financially successful using moreliberal licensing models and promoting a full spectrum of options tofellow authors.

Rocker MPCharlie Angus is clearly center-left, focused onindependent creators while also promoting institutions like composerand performer collective societies (including tabling a bill toextend the private copying levy to devices). From the conversationsI have had with other composers and performers over the years, Ibelieve his views represent a majority of composers and performers. These views are often in obvious conflict with those expressed by therecording industry, the other of the 3 copyright holding groups inthe music business.

Charlie Angus is the currentHeritage critic for the NDP. The past Heritage critic of the NDP, WendyLill, was one of the most conservative creators' rights MPsI've run into.

As Heritage Ministers I wouldput both JamesMoore and past Minister SheilaCopps on the conservative side. The fact that one was aLiberal cabinet minister and the other a Conservative cabinetminister doesn't matter. It appears to be considered part of themandate of a Heritage minister to protect existing institutions,including protecting them from competition from creators exploringnew ideas.

I do not believe thatconservative vs. liberal creators' rights policies map into theConservative vs. Liberal vs. NDP parties. My impression is thatcurrent Industry Minister TonyClement is center-right, far closer to Michael Geist thanto people like John Degen, James Moore or myself.

Some example policies?

I believe that traditionalcopyright itself is centrist in nature, not giving specific favour totraditional institutions or to new entrants exploring new ideas. Idon't, however, believe that all of C-32 fits within traditionalcopyright.

CollectiveSocieties? While the language may seem left-of-center fromtraditional politics, I think that the basic concept of collectivesocieties would be center-right. Where things sway from the centeris when we diverge from voluntary licensing schemes. When collectivelicenses are voluntary to both creators and audiences, these entitiesprovide a valuable catalogue licensing model that makes licensingeasier for everyone involved. When collective licensing becomesmandatory to either creators or audiences, then they become aninstitution that removes rather than grants creator choice and slidesto the right. One of the issues where I argued strongly with peopleassociated with Access Copyright, a collective society for writtenworks, was on an extended or compulsory licensing scheme foreducational works which would effectively rule out any alternativefunding models for educational works.

Access Control TPMs inCopyright? I really don't know where to fit this. It is a radicalchange to the contours that copyright law has had for hundreds ofyears, given Copyright never before contemplated the concept of”access”. Once copyright regulates access, it makes theexisting list of activities regulated by copyright largely redundant. The concept of access had always been left outside of copyright toother non-copyright areas of law. It is also questionable whethercopyright law protecting access controls is compatiblewith the Canadian Constitution given access control shouldbe recognized as more of a provincial (e-commerce, contract,property) issue, not federal copyright. Looking towards things likethe constitution and traditional definitions of Copyright may besomething you would expect a conservative to be saying, but it hasbeen the “copy left” that has been opposed to accesscontrols being added to copyright, and the “copy right” hasbeen active proponents.

It may be that since TPMpolicy rightfully falls outside of copyright policy and into otherareas of law, that the copy right vs copy left political dynamiccannot be mapped. This may be yet another warning about this area ofpolicy, and why TPM policy should be added to the right laws and notto copyright law at all.

I invite people to think aboutother policies and where they may fit. Sometimes it will help makesense out of some of the policy debates between creators' rightsadvocates. Sometimes it may expose a policy where there may be someother dynamic happening that isn't consistent with those politicalvalues.

Russell McOrmond is a self employed consultant,policy coordinator for CLUE:Canada's Association for Free/Libre and Open Source Software,co-coordinator for Getting Open Source Logic INto Governments (GOSLING),and host for DigitalCopyright Canada.