When I first heard a group outside of
the Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS
Creative Commons movement use the word "CopyLeft", I
thought they were simply using the term incorrectly. (See: Independent
authors just wanting a little respect... from fellow creators and
In the FLOSS movement it
means something similar to ShareAlike
with Creative Commons: the license says the copyrighted work can be
freely shared (without additional permission/payment) as long as any
derivatives are equally shared. The licensing model is not opposed
to copyright in any way, and focuses on material rewards in the form
of additional creative works rather than royalties.
I continue to hear the term
"copy left" used, sometimes by those who consider it a
positive term, but more often by people who are trying to use the
term in a derogatory manner. In this context the term is not being
used to reference to a licensing model, but a political philosophy.
This suggests that the term
"copy left" references a liberal creators' rights
philosophy, and the "copy right" refers to a conservative
creators' rights philosophy. It is only a coincidence that those on
the "copy left" also support CopyLeft style licensing.
One thing I have noticed is
that in politics one isn't necessarily conservative or liberal in all
areas of their lives. I consider myself a social liberal, but fiscal
conservative. On environmental policy I consider myself a
conservationist, which could be considered a form of conservative
compared to a person who is liberal and thinks that the resources of
the planet are infinite.
In order to be as unbiased as
possible in finding meaning in the terms copy left and copy right, I
think a encyclopedia definition is a good start.
conservare, "to preserve") is a
political and social philosophy that promotes the maintenance of
traditional institutions and opposes rapid change in society. Some
conservatives seek to preserve things as they are, emphasizing
stability and continuity, while others oppose modernism and seek a
return to "the way things were".
Liberalism (from the Latin
liberalis, "of freedom") is the belief in the importance of
liberty and equality. Liberals espouse a wide array of views
depending on their understanding of these principles, but most
liberals support such fundamental ideas as constitutions, liberal
democracy, free and fair elections, human rights, capitalism, free
trade, and the separation of church and state.
So a conservative creators'
rights advocate would be one trying to maintain traditional
publishing and distribution institutions, and oppose to embracing the
rapid changes in business models and methods of communication that is
sparked by new communications technology.
A liberal creators' rights
advocate would be uninterested in maintaining traditional methods of
production, distribution and funding of creativity, but would be
espousing a full spectrum of methods.
With this as a context, many
of the conversations I have had over the past 9 years that I have
been involved in copyright policy start to make sense. While any
individual creator may position themselves anywhere on that political
spectrum, understanding that spectrum helps to make sense why two
individuals fighting for creators' rights may find themselves
disagreeing with each other more than they disagree with someone who
isn't fighting for creators' rights.
(Note: Apologies to the users'
rights advocates who may be reading this. As I am a creators' rights
advocate, this is my focus. A similar analysis can be done with
users' rights advocates, with some of the educational community
focused on education institutional exceptions fitting closer into the
So, what am I? Anyone who has
read articles I have written would know I am a liberal creators'
rights advocate. I hadn't realized this until recently as I thought
the term "copy left" was being used in a derogatory way by
fellow creators' rights advocates, but I now feel proud to be saying
I believe in a full spectrum
of methods of production, distribution and funding of creativity that
includes historical institutions, but that is no longer dominated by
them. In some cases, such as the major label recording industry,
major broadcasters/BDU's, and major software manufacturers, I am
rooting for what I hope will be an inevitably fade from their
historical dominance. I consider this to be a positive evolution
that will mean better material and moral rewards for individual
creators, who will finally after so long be able to make their own
decisions and choose their own destinies.
None of the policy proposals I
have made for copyright would remove traditional options from those
creators who wish to chose those options. I wish that all creators
could agree to policies that would allow all of us to co-exist and
become successful using a full spectrum of options.
I recognize that there are
other creators, often closely associated with long standing creator
groups, that strongly disagree with this viewpoint. Like other
political philosophies that have a spectrum of beliefs, those with
opposing beliefs will tend to have opposing policy proposals or even
different criteria for success. I would consider it a failure of
copyright reform if what it did was protect the incumbent
institutions from change, rather than protecting the interests of a
wider range of creators.
With these tools in hand, we
can go through some sample organizations and see where their policies
and talking points put them on that political scale. Please be
aware that individuals within these organizations may have different
or even incompatible political philosophies from the executive, so I
can only speak about the people claiming to be spokespersons or the
official policy of the organizations.
Copyright For Canada
Liberal: While my impression is that the most active participants in this
group are creators' rights advocates, they are liberal enough to have
creators and non-creators all together discussing in the same group.
CLUE: Canada's Association for
Like Fair Copyright for Canada, this group is a mixture of people who
consider themselves primarily authors of software and those who are
strictly software users. What brings them together is an interest in
the usage of software that uses liberal licensing terms.
Center-left: While they advocate for stronger composer and performer collective
societies, including more compulsory licensing schemes, they also
otherwise endorse a full spectrum of options outside of those
activities covered by the compulsory licensing.
All it takes is a quick look at the articles on their site to see
that they are focused on maintaining existing institutions and
business methods. The individuals I hear using the term "copy
left" to refer to some "other" tend to be active
members of this coalition, so I can only assume that they would be
happy to be acknowledged to be creators' rights conservatives.
Canadian Recording Industry
requirement: I don't believe that CRIA has a choice but to
promote conservative copyright values as they are one of those
traditional institutions that is under radical change. (See bottom
allies and opponents in the Copyright debate) Clearly in
order for them to survive they need to somehow return things to "the
way they were". I think they have picked bad allies in this,
but that is unimportant for trying to place them on a policy
Copyright for Canada
While we are only slowly learning who is behind this group, their
policy proposals are clearly conservative in nature. It is also
important to recognize that many individuals who have been seen as
spokespersons for the Creators' Copyright Coalition have endorsed the
views of this group, further suggesting they are pushing compatible
conservative creators' rights values
There are some individuals
While on a scale from a
copyright minimalist to copyright maximalist I would put Michael Geist
in the centre, on this scale I would put him more center-left. He
recognizes a full spectrum of creators, but is not as quick as others
to dismiss the relevance of some of the traditional institutions. He
has been instrumental in convincing me to no longer reject WIPO as an institution,
and to instead look at ways that existing treaties can be interpreted
more centrist, and a possible future WIPO that itself becomes more
centrist. Maybe over time Mr. Geist will continue to move me closer
to the center-left.
conservative creators' rights advocates do not even recognize Michael
Geist as a creators rights advocate as he is a lawyer. (His book
ignored) These same people will recognize and promote
lawyers such as James
Gannon or Barry
Sookman whose clients and policies are clearly
When I first met him years ago
I would have put John
Degen, then head of the Professional Writers Association in
Canada, on the center-right. I believe over time (and whenever a
bill is tabled) he tends to focus on more conservative creators'
rights views. There has been quite a bit of heated discussions
between him and people associated with Fair Copyright for Canada and
its chapters. In various discussions he has been quick to label
anyone even slightly to the left of his views as representing the
"copy left", and I always get the feeling the term is
intended to be derogatory.
Highly successful Canadian
science fiction author and creators' rights activist Cory Doctorow is
on the center-left-left. While he still makes sure he keeps his
publisher in business, he is one of the most cited examples in
fiction literature of someone being financially successful using more
liberal licensing models and promoting a full spectrum of options to
Charlie Angus is clearly center-left, focused on
independent creators while also promoting institutions like composer
and performer collective societies (including tabling a bill to
extend the private copying levy to devices). From the conversations
I have had with other composers and performers over the years, I
believe his views represent a majority of composers and performers. These views are often in obvious conflict with those expressed by the
recording industry, the other of the 3 copyright holding groups in
the music business.
Charlie Angus is the current
Heritage critic for the NDP. The past Heritage critic of the NDP, Wendy
Lill, was one of the most conservative creators' rights MPs
I've run into.
As Heritage Ministers I would
put both James
Moore and past Minister Sheila
Copps on the conservative side. The fact that one was a
Liberal cabinet minister and the other a Conservative cabinet
minister doesn't matter. It appears to be considered part of the
mandate of a Heritage minister to protect existing institutions,
including protecting them from competition from creators exploring
I do not believe that
conservative vs. liberal creators' rights policies map into the
Conservative vs. Liberal vs. NDP parties. My impression is that
current Industry Minister Tony
Clement is center-right, far closer to Michael Geist than
to people like John Degen, James Moore or myself.
Some example policies?
I believe that traditional
copyright itself is centrist in nature, not giving specific favour to
traditional institutions or to new entrants exploring new ideas. I
don't, however, believe that all of C-32 fits within traditional
Societies? While the language may seem left-of-center from
traditional politics, I think that the basic concept of collective
societies would be center-right. Where things sway from the center
is when we diverge from voluntary licensing schemes. When collective
licenses are voluntary to both creators and audiences, these entities
provide a valuable catalogue licensing model that makes licensing
easier for everyone involved. When collective licensing becomes
mandatory to either creators or audiences, then they become an
institution that removes rather than grants creator choice and slides
to the right. One of the issues where I argued strongly with people
associated with Access Copyright, a collective society for written
works, was on an extended or compulsory licensing scheme for
educational works which would effectively rule out any alternative
funding models for educational works.
Access Control TPMs in
Copyright? I really don't know where to fit this. It is a radical
change to the contours that copyright law has had for hundreds of
years, given Copyright never before contemplated the concept of
"access". Once copyright regulates access, it makes the
existing list of activities regulated by copyright largely redundant. The concept of access had always been left outside of copyright to
other non-copyright areas of law. It is also questionable whether
copyright law protecting access controls is compatible
with the Canadian Constitution given access control should
be recognized as more of a provincial (e-commerce, contract,
property) issue, not federal copyright. Looking towards things like
the constitution and traditional definitions of Copyright may be
something you would expect a conservative to be saying, but it has
been the "copy left" that has been opposed to access
controls being added to copyright, and the "copy right" has
been active proponents.
It may be that since TPM
policy rightfully falls outside of copyright policy and into other
areas of law, that the copy right vs copy left political dynamic
cannot be mapped. This may be yet another warning about this area of
policy, and why TPM policy should be added to the right laws and not
to copyright law at all.
I invite people to think about
other policies and where they may fit. Sometimes it will help make
sense out of some of the policy debates between creators' rights
advocates. Sometimes it may expose a policy where there may be some
other dynamic happening that isn't consistent with those political
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 Digital