Lots of panic, little substance in copyright debate
If one were to believe certain online commentators, one would think that the new copyright law expected to be introduced (although recently postponed) by Jim Prentice is nothing short of a promise to rape nuns and devour orphans.
Yet, when one examines a good deal of the commentary, one thing becomes abundantly clear: much of this protest is based almost entirely on rhetoric, with very little substance to it.
After all, it takes a very special brand of ideologue to denounce a piece of legislation you haven't even seen yet.
Of course, certain panic stricken individuals would like to remind everyone precisely how important this matter is. "This is a very important event, an important piece of legislation," said Kempton Lam, who organized a recent protest at Prentice's Calgary office. "If it’s not set right, [we] are going to suffer the consequences for years to come.”
Seems pretty dire, doesn't it?
Given the obvious importance of the copyright issue, one would expect that those protesting this phantom would have something really, really important to say.
Guess again. In fact, it seems the objections to what is believed (although not confirmed) to be contained in the bill boil down to three As: anti-Americanism, anti-corporatism and assinine premises.
During Question Period this past week, NDP copyright critic Charlie Angus accused the Conservatives of "rolling out the red carpet to corporations.”
University of Ottawa professor and would-be copyright guru Michael Geist has accused the government of pandering to the American entertainment industry.
Geist is also among those who have insisted that the bill will closely mimic the American Digital Millenium Copyright Act (without, of course, having seen the proposed bill). "There was every sense that the government was going to produce precisely what the US has done," Geist insisted. "People recognize that [the DMCA] has caused significant harm for all sorts of groups: privacy interests, consumer groups [and] free speech."
Of course, the fact that copying someone else's copyrighted intellectual property doesn't qualify as "free speech" notwithstanding, the most ridiculous argument should, of course, be saved for last.
"Say I buy a DVD and want to rip that to a file and put that on my iPod. It’s the movie that I bought. I didn’t go out and buy the experience of putting a plastic disc in a player and then pushing a button on a remote control," argues Ian Wallace. "I bought the experience to watch that movie."
Not so. Purchasing a CD or DVD does not entail purchasing the right to copy that material at will.
At its most extreme, it may not be entirely unreasonable to agree with Terence Corcoran's assessment of the protestors. To suggest that people should be allowed to tinker away at anti-circumvention measures with impunity is, frankly, ludicrous.
Canadians don't tolerate lawlessness in the corporeal world. There's no reason why we should be expected to settle for it in cyberspace. Property rights are a fundamental foundation of the rule of law, and intellectual property is simply no different.
Perhaps the greatest irony is this: by targeting the anti-circumvention articles of any proposed copyright act as the locus of protest against Geist's phantom copyright bill, individuals such as Geist, Lam and Angus want to use hostility toward "large corporations" to try and topple the entire bill.
Now, if only big corporations were the only ones who own intellectual property.
The ironic thing about the movement to undermine copyright law in Canada, under the guise of freeing information from the shackles of big corporations, is that it will undermine the intellectual property rights of countless authors, musicians, film producers, and other assorted artists. People like Ian Wallace would like to believe they're conducting a David-and-Goliath struggle against "evil corporations". Instead, they're helping screw the little guy: thousands of hard-working producers of intellectual property who will see their ability to make a living off their work endangered simply because some jerkoff doesn't want to pay for the new Die Hard DVD, and some other jerkoff figures "by golly, he shouldn't have to, either".
Michael Geist takes his ill-concieved information revolutionary act a step too far when he actually suggests that copyright law should facilitate the distribution of copyrighted works in digital form as a business model.
Someone should tell Mr Geist that's up to the copyright holders. Copyright law needs to ensure that such transactions are carried out legally, within the guidelines imposed by law. In other words, copyright law needs to ensure that, whether directly or indirectly, copyright holders are the ones selling their intellectual property, not pirates.
As for developing digital distribution as a business model? Not the government's job.
As for the allegedly-impending shitstorm of lawsuits against consumers, Canadian Independent Record Production Association CEO Duncan McKie raises the most pertinent point: "the property holders would have to decide to sue."
And if the person on the business end of that lawsuit happens to be someone illegally copying that copyright holder's property, they can't exactly pretend that haven't reaped what they sow.
All the panic over an amended copyright law is premature at best, and outright ridiculous at worst.
It's time to give it a rest.