Canadian Copyright Consultation

The Canadian government is either making an effort or making a show of making an effort to consult with the public and other stakeholders on the issue of digital rights and copyright. I encourage all Canadians to post a response to them at this site: http://copyright.econsultation.ca/

Here is my response. The ideas and opinions expressed here are largely based on discussions we’ve had at the Pirate Party of Canada discussion forum. My opinions do not, however, necessarily reflect the opinion of the Pirate Party of Canada.

Feel free to plagiarize any parts of the following letter in your own letters to the Copyright Consultation.

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Dear Copyright Consultation Members,

My background: I am a freelance software developer holding a Master’s
degree in Computer Science from York University. I am an advocate of
open source software and member of the fledgling Pirate Party of
Canada. I understand the fundamental shift that Internet technology
has made on society, and am here to explain this understanding to the
lawmakers.

1. How do Canada’s copyright laws affect you?

Our copyright laws take all power away from both artists and consumers
and place that power in the hands of wealthy distribution channels
such as book publishers, record labels, and movie studios. As an
aspiring author, I cannot get my book published because the publishing
industry does not like my style. As a consumer, I cannot access music
at reasonable prices because the recording industry wants a huge cut.
I may not mind paying $20 for a CD, but knowing that the original
artist gets a small fraction of that is upsetting. I’d rather send the
entire $20 directly to the artist and download their music from
so-called “pirate” services.

The Internet is making these distribution channels unnecessary.
Authors can post books online and self-publish using online services
such as lulu or createspace. Musicians can post their music online
using Jamendo or Bittorrent. Independent movie producers can post
their movies online using hulu, youtube, or similar services. This
shift allows artists direct access to the consumers and vice versa.

The distribution channels are irrelevant; they know this and are
lobbying for laws to make it harder and/or illegal to access content
without paying them. This is like trying to pass laws that we all use
typewriters instead of e-mail because typewriters and the postal
system are no longer relevant. It serves a set of industries already
well-known for misusing artists and consumers alike.

How should existing laws be modernized?

The number one change is to reduce copyright term. Drastically.

A book published today will not be available to the public in my life
time. How is the original author compensated after his or her death?
Sony is making an obscene fortune off of Michael Jackson’s death, a
small fraction of that will go to his family. Why?

In addition, technology is now advancing at an incredible rate. a
century ago when our current copyright laws were introduced, things
moved in decades. Now they move in seconds. It could take years for a
book or recording to circulate and be heard by everyone in the
country. Now the entire world can read it in a week, and next week its
old news.

Copyright term should be shortened to 10 years for books, 5 years for
music and movies, 2 years for software, and 1 year or less for
medicinal knowledge. This would give artists and distribution channels
some compensation, but would increase the rate of knowledge growth by
at least one human generation.

Second, non-commercial sharing of data must not be illegal. It should
not be illegal for me to loan a book to a friend. It should not be
illegal for me to read a book to my friend over the phone. By
extension, I should be able to share it with them across any media or
time-frame.

2. Based on Canadian values and interests, how should copyright
changes be made in order to withstand the test of time?

The primary Canadian value at risk and often forgotten in these
discussions is privacy. We are a very private people compared to say,
the USA, although probably less private than most of Europe. Many
corporate lobiests suggest that people not be allowed to share data
they have paid for or use it in whatever way they see fit. The obvious
example is filesharing, but the logical extensions could lead to
charging to read a book every time you open it, or forbidding a person
from watching a movie at a friend’s house if they haven’t paid to view
it.

The privacy problem is that policing such laws would require knowing
every movie I watch, every book I read, and every packet I transfer
across the Internet. The authorities would have to read every e-mail
to ensure I haven’t attached an “illegal” file to it. This is clearly
a drastic invasion of privacy.

Another core Canadian value is the desire to create. Our country has a
very unique heritage with many unique works of art not created
anywhere else. If the large media outlets get their way, they will
have complete control over all creative works. They will get to pick
and choose which artists get shown to the public and which ones get
placed in the equivalent of a creative prison with no access to
potential readers, viewers, or listeners. We will be steered by US
corporate interests and our cultural works will be marginalized and
ultimately, lost.

3. What sorts of copyright changes do you believe would best foster
innovation and creativity in Canada?

As mentioned, shorter copyright term. That will:
a) force capable artists and inventors to come up with new ideas
instead of living off the fruits of a single idea for their entire
lives
b) allow capable artists and authors to ‘stand on the shoulders of
giants’ and reuse existing works in their own works and inventions.
They can constructively spend time improving existing works instead of
trying to circumvent other good ideas that they do not have access to.

4. What sorts of copyright changes do you believe would best foster
competition and investment in Canada?

Competition would definitely be served by shorter copyright term.
Companies and artists would need to continue creating, and would have
to sell their works with quality service and pricing.

Investment is a really tricky issue because it depends what other
countries are doing. I believe that if Canada had sane copyright laws,
there would be a “new-style” publishing industry cropping up here, and
artists may move to our nation to take advantage of direct access to
an audience. On the other hand, currently powerful companies would
shun investment in the new model. I believe such companies will become
irrelevant.

5. What kinds of changes would best position Canada as a leader in
the global, digital economy?

Such a question depends on what the rest of the world is doing. Canada
needs to look to Europe for inspiration as the USA has the most
powerful corporate anti-consumer backing. Europe has already elected
Pirate Party members focused on copyright reform similar to what I
have described. It is inevitable that massive reform, even revolutions
in copyright law will occur at some point; it is possible that wars
will be fought over it. Canada can be at the front of this movement by
changing our laws first, and by doing it the way we always do:
peacefully.

Dusty Phillips
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