The next stage in the copyright revision process: getting political

Today is the last day make your written submissionsin the 2009 copyright consultation, but this does not mean the processis over. In fact, we should be winding up towards the next stage in theprocess and not winding down.

There are two sets of things that will be happening next: analysisof submissions, and then moving this into the political process. NikNanos will be summarizing the comments to the 5 topic areas, and thebureaucracy will be doing their analysis of the written submissions. Weneed to do our own analysis.

There may soon be a federal election. Whether there is or not, weneed to work within each riding to ensure that as many members ofparliament will be as informed as possible when a bill is tabled andthere is committee and house debate on the bill. It matters who theseindividual people will be, and less what party they are affiliated with. To this end I have just donated $500 to the campaign of author, broadcaster, editor, journalist, musician, negotiator, singer, and Timmins–James Bay MP Charlie Angus.

While many people focus on the parties and leaders, I do not thinkthis will be helpful for a policy like copyright. There are only a fewMPs that have strong opinions on copyright, and the leaders will bebalancing the ideas from these MPs with the purely political pressuresthey are receiving.

Of the 4 parties who currently have seats, Steven Harper (Calgary Southwest, Conservative leader) and Gilles Douceppe (Laurier – Sainte-Marie,Bloc Québécois leader) haven’t said anything personal on copyright, andonly repeated party policy or thoughts from cultural critics. JackLayton (Toronto–Danforth,NDP leader) once said he had “one copyright” (referring to a book, notrecognizing he like everyone else is the copyright holder of napkindoodles and emails), and Michael Ignatieff (Etobicoke – Lakeshore, Liberal leader) recently re-joined the Writers Union of Canada.

Of these you may think Mr. Ignatieff has indicated the most since the Writers Union of Canada has a few controversial views on copyright. Their 2009 brief for the Copyright Consultationspresumes that more copyright will mean more money to authors (noevidence of this). They want stronger collective societies as well asextended licensing which is an “opt out” system that allows them tocollect money on the backs of non-member. For the Internet, which theywish to levy, collective society members or supporters are a tiny(possibly immeasurable) minority. They want moral rights to beunwaivable, something that would cause great harm to peer production(their major competition). They want a “notice and takedown” systemwhich is really a claim and censor system, which incorrectly suggestingthat alleged copyright holders can be blindly “trusted” without courtoversight. They also oppose reading/recitation of a “reasonableextract” in public, an activity which should be considered Fair Use andnot require permission or payment.

I know a few members of the Writers Union, and they have told methat the executive doesn’t consult the membership before lobbying “ontheir behalf”. It is quite likely that Mr. Ignatieff isn’t aware of thecopyright position of the Writers Union, and hasn’t given any of theproposals (and any unintended or harmful consequences) any thought.

On the other hand, Dan Mcteague (Pickering – Scarborough East,Liberal issue critic) has quite strong views on this subject. He hasspoken along with recording and other incumbent industry executives infavor of extreme versions of copyright, the expansion of copyright viathe counterfeit-labeled Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, and isgenerally as strong an opponent to reasonable copyright as has existedin the House of Commons. I have donated money to help opponents ofextremists, such as donating to Peggy Nash when she was a candidate in Parkdale-High Parkagainst Sam Bulte in the 2006 election. I will be watching Pickering -Scarborough East very closely, and will do what I can to help thecandidate most likely to unseat Dan Mcteague.

During the last election I wrote an article titled Canada’s Copyright party is … the NDPwhere I documented the transition that happened with that party. Priorto the 2004 election the party was relying on cultural critic WendyLill for direction on copyright and related technology law issues. Inthe 2004 election the NDP stated that they wanted to ratify the 1996WIPO treaties immediately. She was someone who saw modern citizencontrolled communications technology as a threat to creators, andseemed lock-step with the foreign transnationals trying to put foreigndigital locks on content and communications technology.

She retired, and in 2004 was replaced by current digital issuesspokesperson Charlie Angus as their cultural critic. Mr Angus issomeone who not only recognizes the benefits to Canadian creators ofnew communications technology, but also recognizes the democratic andother rights enhancing aspects of these technologies.

This is not a story about the NDP as much as it is a story about howfew MPs have an interest in copyright, and how the few that do havemajor influence within their parties and thus with how this area ofpolicy will go. We need this same type of transition to happen in everyparty, moving out folks like Wendy Lill, Sam Bulte and currently DanMcteague, and to replace them with more people like Charlie Angus.

We will only know who is who ahead of an election by gettingactively involved in our individual ridings. We need to find out whothe candidates are in each riding, and evaluate them as to theirunderstanding of the technological and economic transitions that arehappening in our society and economy. We need to oppose the campaignsof individuals who are only wanting to face backward in time and areopposed to the benefits of modern communications technology, and tohelp the campaigns of allies — regardless of what party they happen tobe affiliated with.

The Digital Copyright Canada website has per-riding blogs(and lookup tools to help you find your riding) which may be helpful toreport anything that people find. Please use these so that they will befull of useful knowledge about all 308 ridings when we head into thenext election.

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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