Copyright Consultation: Is a copyright consensus, or at least compromise, possible?

You might not know that the Canadian government is holding a copyright consultation. This is, after all, the summer when peole are on vacation or otherwise occupied by other things. Even though this reduces who could participate, we have already seen over 4000 written submissions, many more comments on the website, and two packed town hall meetings (Montreal and Toronto). You have until next Sunday, September 13′th, to make your own views known to the government.

While I will be writing more in this last week, as well as analysis after the close of the consultation, I wanted to start with some ideas that I have included with my submission to the consultation. On that same page I provide links to other articles I have written during the consultation period.

Copyright is one of the key laws that will define the shape of our participation in the knowledge economy. Traditional copyright law enables, or can harm, various methods of compensation for creators. When we add concepts such as Digital Rights Management (anti-circumvention) and ISP liability we are determining what types of technologies will be allowed in the future, and who will ultimately control and benefit from them.

This makes Copyright law a very large and important conversation that is not possible to have in only a few short months if left broadly as “copyright”. I have given several presentations lasting an hour for what amounts to a single clause in the 1996 WIPO treaties. The format of this consultation doesn’t allow us the ability to discuss at this level of detail, but only very broadly.

I watched the tail end of the Montreal Town Hall meeting streamed online, using a direct link that was published on Twitter (Consultation website said Microsoft Windows only, and I use Linux on my desktops at work and at home).

One of the things that I noticed is that while far more people are participating than during the 2001 consultations, some of the rhetoric hasn’t advanced in the last few decades. There are two extreme views that were often articulated that can not be reconciled: that any unauthorized usage (commercial or otherwise) of a copyrighted work is analogous to “theft” vs. the suggestion copyright holders shouldn’t need permission or payment (non-commercial or otherwise).

As someone who doesn’t agree with either of these extremes, I see a reasonable position that is somewhere between. One problem is that, along with similar debates in other areas, the language (theft vs fat cats, deniers, pro-life vs pro-choice) has become a barrier to people actually listening to the concerns of all the participants. This disables us from coming up with ideas that can address all our legitimate concerns. Another problem is that these extreme views are harmful not only to those people that are considered political opponents, but also to the interests of those who hold them.

Note: While I could have easily/cheaply attended the Montreal Town Hall, I didn’t intend because at the time I thought I was specifically invited to a different event . It turns out I was only invited along with all other Canadians to the Toronto Town Hall. Given how that event turned out (dominated by the legacy recording industry — talk about the tail wagging the dog) I am glad I didn’t try to spend the hundreds of dollars it would have taken to attend.

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 Copyright Canada.

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