Rush, Ayn Rand, and the “Conservative” party’s copyright bill

On Jun 12’th there were two important events in my life. Early in the day the “Conservative” party tabled their copyright bill C-61, and later that evening I was in Montreal watching Rush as part of their Snakes and Arrows tour. One of the things I love about Rush is the deeper thinking that their lyrics encourage, and in this case I saw many parallels between some of the lyrics and the contents of the Copyright bill.

One of my favorite songs is 2112 (Wikipedia, Lyrics/etc,. YouTube Video of first 2 parts) where lyricist Neil Peart takes us through a science fiction story. It is in some dystopian future where the rulers (“Priests of the Temples of Syrinx”) determine all reading matter, songs, pictures. A man discovers an old musical instrument (A guitar), and is excited and shows it to the priests. The priest destroy the instrument, telling him that the instrument and its music doesn’t fit the plan.

It turns out that there was another story based on the same theme, and that is Anthem by Ayn Rand. Rather than a guitar, in Anthem, the protagonist re-invents the light bulb in a tunnel. While Peart authored the similar theme, the band did credit Ayn Rand in the liner notes.

Ayn Rand is best known for her (still controversial) political views. Rand advocated rational individualism and laissez-faire capitalism, categorically rejecting socialism, altruism, and religion. She was a strong proponent of private property, and the story Anthem was intended as a critique of socialism.

This brings us to Bill C-61, a bill based on policy from the Clinton/Gore administration in the United States. While this bill clearly falls short of either Peart or Rand’s stories, it does bring us in that direction. We don’t have a government banning guitars or electricity yet, but we do have a government seeking to centralize the control over communications technology. While this control will temporarily be vested in the hands of a few hardware manufacturers, there is little difference between centralized control by corporations or governments given they are largely interchangeable (and control each other).

While Copyright historically only regulated industrial activities, the bulk of C-61 is a big-government intrusion into otherwise private activities of Canadians. Most of the new provisions talk about technical measures, with the two most common technical measures being locks which impose brands of technology onto audiences of digital content, and locked down devices which revoke control over those devices including revoking the ability for the owner to make software choices. This is a combination of an abuse of market forces to eradicate market forces through legalizing, legally protecting and encouraging anti-competitive behaviour, and a direct frontal attack on the tangible property rights of technology owners.

The additions to section 29, while incorrectly claimed to be fair dealings, talk about device and time shifting. While some lawyers have argued that these activities weren’t covered by copyright in the past, and these activities are considered “Fair Use” in the United States, this bill makes these entirely private activities fully regulated with copyright holders having the right to refuse permission via contracts.

I have to wonder how these “conservatives” have been confused into supporting this policy direction. This is a big-government intrusion into the private activities of Canadians. There is a claim that there is copyright infringement that needs to be stopped, but those activities which are harmful remain public and commercial in nature. There is no merit to claiming that big-government intrusion into private non-commercial activities will reduce this public/commercial harm.

What this bill seems to be about is protecting, at all costs, a narrow set of business models from otherwise legitimate competition. While this might make sense for those few special interests that are dependant on outdated business models, it is extremely bad for the economy as a whole. Governments have a poor record at picking winners and losers in the marketplace, and this government shouldn’t be heading towards a planned economy.

A government based on conservative values would be taking the opposite policy approach than this bill. They would be ensuring that it is only public activities that are regulated by copyright, very clearly carving out private activities. Like our privacy legislation which disallows privacy to be waived as a condition for the provision of a product or service, copyright should disallow limits to private activities to be waived via contracts. Anyone wanted to try to make money by restricting private activities and selling back permission should be clearly told “tough luck, find a honest/legitimate business model!”

In the past when making mechanical copies was an industrial activity it made sense to regulate the creation of copies. Now that we all own efficient devices designed to make copies, the law should be modernized to focus entirely on unauthorized public activities including public distribution of copies, communication to the public, public performances, and public exhibitions. Enforcement of restrictions on public activities are trivially easy, especially compared to the draconian (Orwellian, police state) measures required to enforce restrictions on private activities.

Are any Conservative party members paying attention? How many have actually read and understood the corporate socialist policies that C-61 promotes?

In the Rush 2112 song the man who discovers the guitar ends up committing suicide, and there is a vague ending where a new war clearly breaks out and replaces the priests (“We have assumed control”). As more and more people understand the implications of the policy direction, we may see a similar regime and policy change. Like in Jesse Hirsh’s recent rant on radio I worry that such an uprising would force the eradication of copyright. Given only a choice between maximalist copyright and eradication I would choose eradication, but I believe there are middle-ground win-win scenarios that would be far preferable.

Then again, the lose-lose scenario that the Conservatives have proposed in this bill reminds me of the Rush song “The Trees” (Lyrics/etc, Wikipedia, YouTube Videos)….

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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