The grassroots effort by thousands of Canadians on Facebook was one of the biggest factors in causing the government’s delay of a controversial copyright reform bill last month. 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 other 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.
For Evan Prodromou, the man behind Montreal’s local chapter, his motivation in starting a group for the city is to make sure the centre of Quebec’s cultural industry has a voice in this debate as well.
“Being one of Canada’s most important culture-creating cities, Montreal and its citizens have a crucial role to play in this national debate,” Prodromou said. “How will further restrictions to consumer rights impact our creative activity in Montreal? Will a DMCA-like copyright act have a chilling effect on Montreal’s Web and technology business community?”
Prodromou believes that his city is one of the most media-savvy and technologically-engaged in the country and, in turn, an unfairly balanced copyright act would have especially detrimental effects for the island.
“Many people here work in the tech industry or use the Internet and the Web for their daily work,” Prodromou said. “If a wrong-head and overly strict copyright act slows or inhibits innovation in our technology sector, that’s people’s jobs and livelihoods at stake.”
And the numbers are certainly supporting Prodromou’s concerns, as his Montreal group has already gained 221 members in just a few weeks time – the most of the region chapters at press time.
Moving further east, IT consultant and founder of Halifax’s chapter Christopher Mercer said all the chapters will continue to grow as people learn about the issue and how it will even affect the simple task of putting an Mp3 to their iPods.
“Once people give the issue a couple minutes of attention and give it a little reading as well, they realize how quickly this kind of law can impact their day-to-day lives,” Christopher Mercer, IT consultant and founder of the Halifax chapter, said.
“We have laws that tell you how fast you can travel on the roads and if you’re caught breaking those laws you will be fined, but there is no technological preventions that say you can’t do 110 kp/h in a 100 zone kp/h zone. Most people don’t like having that level of restriction on consumer goods.”
As for what the future holds for the potential bill, and whether or not the government will completely retreat on the issue, many of these copyright activists remain skeptical.
“We’re just not sure yet, but like before the break, the government’s being extremely quiet about the future of this bill,” Prodromou said. “But the story from Parliament Hill is that Minister Prentice will try to push through a version of this bill with only minor changes in the next session.”
The next opportunity for the minister to present his bill to the House is on Jan 28.