Copyright Consultations Canada – have your say!

I’m proud to be able to share with you all the Copyright Consultations website, inviting Canadians to share their opinions of how our copyright laws should be modernized. There are several means to do so, from discussion forums to attending the live sessions advertised on this website, but I chose to submit my opinions in an email.Â

I’ll share the contents of this email below. These are simply my opinions and by no means what I demand should be imposed on all Canadians.

1. How do Canada’s copyright laws affect you? How should existing laws be modernized?

As a composer, a DJ, and a user of the internet, I strongly believe that copyright laws are antiquated and do not serve the best interests of musicians nor consumers. The world is a very different place today than it was even just 20 years ago, and it’s very important that the law stays current with modern times. Actions that were deemed illegal decades ago are now commonplace, bolster Canadian culture and economy,  and are indicative of the evolution of human interpersonal communication. For example, in the past music enthusiasts were limited to their vocabularies when trying to convey their appreciation and enthusiasm for music culture, but today it is trivial and preferable to share a copy of a song as it is a more direct and meaningful means of conversation. What better way could there be to convey the depth of Stompin’ Tom Connors’ voice than to share a copy of “Good Old Hockey Game”?

As a composer I create original music entirely conceptualized and arranged by myself, but I opt to sometimes use samples that are recorded from commercial works. I seek no monetary compensation for my original music, yet I live in fear of publishing my work because of the copyright laws associated with those samples. Regardless of my fear I’ve been publishing my music for free for 16 years.

As a DJ I mix songs together in real time, using talent and skills I’ve refined for years as well as music and technology I bought from local neighbourhood shops, but I live in fear of publishing my work for free because of the copyright laws associated with those songs. Regardless of my fear I’ve been publishing my mixes for free for 7 years.

As a music enthusiast I own hundreds of albums on a variety of media. My friends are also music enthusiasts and it is natural for us to use the convenient communication tools of the internet to share copies of those songs. There are countless examples of us enjoying those shared songs and subsequently buying an album or attending a show, as well as examples of us not enjoying the songs and avoiding a purchase. I live in fear of sharing these songs for non-commercial purposes because of the copyright laws associated with those songs, but I deem this behaviour preferable to taking a chance on an unfamiliar album because Canadian copyright law permits stores to refuse to give refunds for unsatisfactory albums or movies. Canadian copyright law is so complex and cryptic that I don’t even know whether I have the right to copy my audio cassettes to CDs or MP3s so that I can listen to them outside of my home.

Canadian copyright law is completely out of touch with the behaviours that ordinary Canadians practise. Modernized laws must acknowledge and concede that this non-commercial, non-infringing behaviour is natural, and is the intended purpose of communication over the internet. As it stands today, Canadian copyright law enforces punitive action upon citizens who choose to communicate in this common and natural fashion, when in fact the intent behind these actions is genuine – it is not malicious, there is no ulterior motive, and a shared song or story does not equal one lost sale.

Canada is in danger of stifling innovation and falling significantly behind more progressive countries if it insists upon punishing citizens for multimedia communication. Canada has one of (if not the very) highest adoption rates of the internet per capita, and as such should be the frontrunner by a wide margin in accommodating and nurturing this enthusiasm for sharing our culture with the world. It is irresponsible for our government to continue to punish its citizens who now grow up speaking the language of multimedia just as fluently as French or English.  The indisputable fact is that current and future generations of citizens will continue to share media over the internet whether or not it is deemed lawful, so our laws should be modernized to protect and not criminalize the average Canadian.

The spirit of Canadian copyright law is sound – protect artists, their financiers, and their fans - but the letter of the law as it is written today has no relevance to modern society. Canadian copyright law asserts that most Canadian citizens malicious criminals requiring rehabilitation, when in fact we are the most dedicated commercial consumers and advertisers of Canadian and global culture. Is it the desire of my democratically-elected government to convey to the world that we are an overwhelmingly immoral, greedy society?

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

Speaking as a proud lifelong Canadian, in my mind the single most valuable Canadian ideal is sharing. We are one of the most multicultural and adaptive societies on Earth, we are wont to approach strangers with open arms rather than firearms, we are renowned for our international peacekeeping and diplomatic efforts, and we are celebrated for our unique and elegant abilities of expression. Canada has a rich history of culture, music, and storytelling, and we are very proud to repeat these stories and songs to our global neighbours. Thanks to the proliferation of internet adoption in Canada this ability is easier than ever before, for musicians, broadcasters, and even individuals. The ability for an individual voice to be propagated as far and wide as that of a major broadcaster is a triumph of ingenuity and has enabled the entire world to hear the stories and songs of citizens, ordinary and extraordinary, from all walks of life. This is the single most effective means of advertising on a global scale at minimum cost, and is directly responsible for the success of countless artists who would otherwise be obscure and limited to much smaller geographies. I can think of nothing more Canadian than the word-of-mouth promotion of our neighbours’ creative expressions.

In regards to creative works standing the test of time, the fact of the matter is that the internet renders everything permanent. The purpose of the internet is to provide an open publishing medium to all mankind without restriction or persecution. At its most fundamental level, the internet is no more than a commonly agreed-upon set of computer communications protocols that enable computers all over the world to publish and receive data and files. In essence, the internet is mankind’s sixth sense, and Canada’s current copyright laws punish citizens who do not voluntarily blind themselves.

Canadians have had no trouble embracing the internet in practise and in spirit, and this is proven by the millions of websites, businesses, and creative works we have collectively created and shared. Copyright law threatens to restrict publishing materials for non-commercial, social purposes, and to punish individuals who are merely leveraging the most efficient and descriptive form of communication at their immediate disposal. If copyright holders are the only party permitted to publish then classic creative works will disappear to make room for more profitable modern ones, regardless of the classic works’ cultural relevance or appeal.

To summarize, the ideals of the internet are at odds with those of copyright law as it stands today. The internet is an open publishing medium, whereas copyright law restricts publishing to copyright holders (which are usually large, non-Canadian corporations, and rarely the artists themselves). The single most important factor in ensuring creative endeavours (creating, publishing, and enjoying) will stand the test of time is to align the ideals of copyright with those of the internet. Copyright law should recognize that non-commercial, non-infringing behaviour of ordinary citizens (such as peer-to-peer sharing) is lawful and protected behaviour, endorsed by Canadian government, regardless of the laws governing these actions in other countries.

The long-lived future of Canadian culture is in no way restricted by the short term profits garnered by multinational corporations, fuelled by our country’s artistic assets.

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

Throughout our history, innovations in technology have enabled Canadians in creating, modifying, and sharing creative works in traditional and new forms of media. Art is no longer a static, monolithic entity, but has evolved into a living and polymorphic opportunity. Advanced technologies have become more accessible and less expensive, and Canadians lead the world in its proficiency with these tools to collaboratively tell the Great Canadian Story and contrast it with those of other nations. We do so by creating our own artistic works, by sharing them with the world, and more recently, by creating derivative works based upon the art of others.

Examples of derivative works are samples (references to another artist’s work within one’s own creations), mixes (sequences of artistic works with meaningful transitions from each to the next), remixes (personal interpretations of others’ artistic works), and mashups (juxtaposition of elements from multiple artistic works to create something original). Derivative interpretations are common in music, film, literature, and visual arts, and even these disparate media can be intertwined into something unique. There are commercial and non-commercial applications for these creative endeavours, and the best inspiration for these projects is the revocation of punitive actions upon authors of non-commercial derivative works, coupled with a fair system to compensate the original artists and copyright holders in cases where derivative works cultivate commercial gain.

Punishing those who create, share, and publish derivative artistic works for non-commercial purposes will impose irreparable damage to the proliferation and innovation of Canadian culture. The inexplicable coupling of culture and commerce is the greatest mistake Canada can make if its goal is to cultivate a foundation of story and song. These ideals work together very well but they remain symbiotic while they are separate.

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

Creative management agencies such as record labels are becoming less relevant as self-publishing over the internet becomes prevalent. Copyright law must be made easily digestible and applicable by individuals and groups who opt to self-publish. Removing this veil of complexity will encourage a glut of artistic hobbyists to monetize their hobbies, decentralizing the means of distribution and providing choice to Canadian artists who may or may not wish to hand over all rights to their creative assets to industry middlemen such as CRIA (Canadian Recording Industry Association) member organizations or similar non-Canadian agencies.

If Canadian copyright laws favour the artists themselves they will be free to spend more time creating the content they excel at, and less time wrestling with the legal intricacies of an industry rife with preying and abuse by representative agencies like those forming the CRIA.  The industries of culture start with artists and end with consumers, so positive reciprocity between these vital groups and the government should be the first priority of Canada’s reformed copyright laws.

Web-based, government-funded resources would be very helpful to aspiring Canadian artists who are unsure of what their next step should be, and for Canadian citizens who do not understand their fair-use rights. The website is the best effort I’ve seen yet, so on behalf of all Canadians I thank my government for what will hopefully be the first of many such forums for two-way discussion!

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

It is imperative that the Canadian government understands the function and purpose of the internet. The internet is not bound by the restrictions of geography or physical space, and it enables and encourages effortless duplication of digital content. Canada’s current copyright laws do not acknowledge these fundamental differentiators between the physical world and the internet. As such, internet-specific innovation is stifled unfairly.

Notable Canadian copyright champions such as Michael Geist and Cory Doctorow have authored many essays on how so-called “piracy” is in reality the greatest boon to the advertisement of Canadian culture, and repeatedly state the irrefutable fact that the “most egregious pirates” happen to belong to the same demographics that purchase the most cultural products. Canada must revise its laws to recognize that uninhibited sharing of copyrighted media for non-commercial purposes is permissible and endorsed by the Canadian government. Purchase of Canadian art, and of foreign art from Canadian businesses, will flourish when Canadians are free to express and share their enthusiasm for these valuable resources unabated.


Well blow me down

After a much publicized and contentious trial, the founders of The Pirate Bay have been found guilty of “breaking copyright law“. The founders petitioned a retrial on the basis that the judge, a voluntary member of several copyright oversight boards, was biased in favour of protection of intellectual property. This attempt was quashed, however, when a peer review concluded that this association could not be deemed a conflict of interests.

There are many parallels to be naturally drawn from this verdict. The Pirate Bay has always proclaimed, civilly and mockingly based on the audience, that their website simply links to content and does not host any on its own. The similarities to other search engines like Google and Bing are more than obvious as it is trivial to use those web services to locate legal and illegal software hosted on third-party sites, just like The Pirate Bay.

The precedents set by this verdict, and particularly those emphasized by the refusal for retrial, are rather serious for TPB’s native Sweden. For one, public opinion of its government and national police force faltered considerably years ago after a raid on one of TPB’s many global web hosts, with the populace accusing its representatives of catering wholeheartedly to foreign pressures. More substantially, there is reasonable doubt concerning where the line is drawn regarding hyperlinking, quoting, and fair use of copyrighted materials (I linked to the BBC above – am I a Swedish criminal, then?). The strongest precedent of all is the claim that peer-to-peer sharing is detrimental to the music industry, ignoring the facts that the nations and specific demographics of the most enthusiastic music pirates are the very same that fuel that industry with the most sales.

The Pirate Bay still presents its corpus of responses to legal threats, based on the professional advice of its legal counsel whom, intimately familiar with Swedish law, were quite certain that the website’s actions fell comfortably within both the letter and spirit of national jurisprudence. It is rarely a valid excuse to proclaim ignorance of the law, but considering the website’s thorough research and powerful assertions that its services were legal, it seems legal compliance may be a moving target.

The cards are still being reshuffled, but the announced sale of the The Pirate Bay will undoubtedly spell the end of its claims that “0 torrents has been removed, and 0 torrents will ever be removed.”

The future of The Pirate Bay is looking grim, but peer-to-peer sharing is far from over. Hundreds, if not thousands of equivalent sites exist today. Sites like ShareReactor, Audiogalaxy, Suprnova, PizzaTorrent, and now The Pirate Bay, all rose through the ranks to become recognized as popular destinations before disbanding due to public pressure, and over the years the next replacement popped up even more quickly than the last. The decades-long endeavour of sharing digital files will not die with this one web site.

Meanwhile, in response to The Pirate Bay verdict, Sweden’s Pirate Party won its first seat in the European parliament as well as over 7% of Sweden’s votes, while similar parties have organized in America, Germany, Finland, Poland, Spain, Portugal, and other countries.

The role of The Pirate Bay may not conclude, even in its death. Its playfully outspoken founders may in fact connect with a wider audience as martyrs than they could have hoped to reach as webmasters.


Conspiracy to commit homebrew

Gamasutra reports that a Welsh store was raided by police who confiscated the owner’s entire stock of Nintendo DS “flash carts”. Devices such as these (e.g., R4DS) are used to execute any program on Nintendo DS. Some such popular programs include homebrew software and games, and also pirated commercial software. The Entertainment & Leisure Software Publishers Association, a UK anti-piracy organization, purchased a quantity from this shop and notified the police upon receipt.

R4DS and all the trimmin's

The police also claimed all receipts for purchases of this device in the last 2 years.

Precrime. It’s plausible to use these products for exclusively legitimate, legal purposes. The article doesn’t specify whether the shop owner was charged, but it’s petty and troubling that the police find it necessary to track the people who own these devices.

I’m reminded of Sony, a Japanese member of the RIAA. Sony is a music publisher who manufactures CD burners and blank CDs, and then sues the people who buy all these products.

I’m quite dissuaded from supporting the UK with my tourism. Between all the stories I hear about video cameras and police I just don’t get the feeling anyone is welcome there.