The Canadian Copyright Consultations were held this summer and ended in mid September. The government has been in discussion about amending the copyright laws that we currently function under and the consultations were meant to give a voice to the millions of Canadians that these laws will affect. With the intent of Canada becoming a leader in the global digital economy and the concern of the internet remaining both a tool for artistic creation and corruption, the amendments are meant to meet the changing demands of our current consumer culture. However, when it comes right down to it, behind all of the legalities the real question that arises is whether these changes in copyright law outlined in Bill C-61 help or hinder artists/musicians and fans.
The Consultations consisted of input from Canadians through an online discussion forum, a centre for posting detailed submissions, roundtables for experts and organizations to weigh in, and town hall meetings hosted by the ministers. So why does this copyright amendment matter? Because, as Geoff Glass explains, these laws “will shape the kind of society and culture you live in. It will effect fees of up to 25 cents a page to be paid by students to study their own culture (American law exempts educational use). It will determine whether we get to decide how we use our cellphones and our computers, or whether manufacturers can dictate exactly what we can and cannot do—regardless of whether it has anything to do with copyright. It will determine whether artists need permission before they make political and social comment on our society” (Straight.com).
It has been argued that Canada needs to amend certain aspects of the Copyright Act, as it has not been adjusted since the rise of the internet in the public sphere and audio cassettes; however, “there must be adequate legal protection for digital content” (National Post) that will be good for business, but not compromise the rights and benefit of the Canadian people. The U.S. government is pushing Canada to adopt their 301 report reformed copyright laws, and even earlier this year “Canada was placed on the United States Trade Representative’s ‘priority watch list’ in its annual ‘Special 301 Report,’ which rates the protection and enforcement of IP rights across the globe” (Law Times). The U.S. has threatened Canada with non-cooperation on trade unless we follow its lead on copyright” (Geof Glass, straight.com). Yet, one might argue that the U.S. is the prime example for Canada of what not to do – they have implemented DMC’s and many other strict legalistic tools that have turned their citizens into criminals. In the last 10 years since their Digital Millennium Copyright Act came into effect, more than 20,000 individuals have been sued by the recording industry for copyright infringement and as Blaine Kyllo points out, “precious little, if any” of the ‘recovered’ money is given back to the artists (straight.com). Who is really benefiting then? Merely the behemoth conglomerates representing these artists they claim to care so much about. Is this really the future of music production and consumption that we in Canada want to legislate?
Despite this concern that unpaid file-sharing in Canada hurts “legitimate creators, producers, distributors, publishers, performers, artists and consumers” (National Post); our own artists of Appropriation Art described the bill as “censorship.” Documentary filmmakers said that the law would “block them from commenting on aspects of our politics and culture” and hundreds of Canadian musicians, “who had already broken with the American-led Canadian Recording Industry Association over this issue,” responded that they “saw nothing in this bill for them” (Geoff Glass, straight.com). If copyright laws are meant to protect artists, then why does it seem that officials are not listening to artists’ concerns? Steven Page, member of the Barenaked Ladies and representative of the Canadian Music Creators Coalition (other members include Feist, Avril Lavigne, Sarah McLachlan, Broken Social Scene, and Sloan), quipped that it is “short-sighted to say ‘See you in court’ one day and ‘See you at Massey Hall’ the next. If record labels want to try and sue fans, we hope that they’ll have the courtesy to stop trying to do it in our names.” The CMCC is one of several groups that have called upon the government to come up with a “made-in-Canada response to copyright reform” (Blaine Kyllo, Straight.com). When it comes right down to it, as Bill Henderson points out, “Canadian songwriters don’t want to sue file-sharers […] we just want to get paid for the use of our work. We think that most music fans agree with that and that millions of Canadians would welcome a legal way to share any and all music files” (straight.com).
Indeed this is the original intent of copyright – to ensure that artists are protected and paid fairly. However, in order to maintain a “balanced copyright law [that] will make sure artists’ rights are not just protected, but strengthened,” copyright law must “build on existing royalty systems so that income flows to artists regardless of how digital media develop. This is essential to the livelihood and work of creators, and to ensure we have a thriving and vibrant cultural scene” (Toronto Star). As it stands, the detriments seem to outweigh the benefits in the suggestions for copyright reform, as Bill C-61 seems to resonate too closely to the rigid American copyright laws, allowing “digital locks on your devices (iPod, laptop, Windows Vista PC), anti-piracy software that would automatically take away your ability to record a TV show for later, share a song or use copyrighted material of any kind – a built-in, no-nonsense, no-exceptions robocop reaching into your life whenever it wants” (Now Magazine). Ultimately these legalistic copyright laws do not stop freeloaders and piracy, but instead they are “devastatingly effective at restricting artists and innovators—because they operate in the public eye. People see this. When they see copyright blocking the creativity it is supposed to promote, they lose respect for the law. For copyright law to be effective, it must be respected. To be respected, it must be fair” (Geoff Glass, straight.com). In other words, creating tough laws is not the same as creating effective laws.
As students, consumers, artists, whatever our role in the digital economy, copyright law should be something that matters to us. When it comes down to it, we need laws that are made-in-Canada, rather than based on external political pressure, and they need to reflect the best interest of our artists as well as our individual interests as Canadian consumers.
If you wish to learn more on your own, these are excellent resources to further your knowledge on the subject of Bill C-61 and what should be implemented in reformed Canadian copyright laws and what should be veered away from: ACTRA actually has a very good list of ideas for copyright reform http://www.actra.ca/actra/control/feature34?menu_id=24 as well as Michael Geist, who has been the forerunner in informing the Canadian public of the copyright consultations and has very inspiring things to say about why copyright matters to him http://www.michaelgeist.ca/content/view/4176/125/, also offering a list of what not to do, while Russell McOrmond provides a very good summary of what the numerous articles of the treaties actually imply and how they affect us as creators and consumers http://www.digital-copyright.ca/node/4386.
Published in Uncharted Sounds Magazine Aug 2009
National Post http://www.nationalpost.com/todays-paper/story.html?
Toronto Star http://www.thestar.com/comment/article/676872
Geof Glass, Straight.com http://www.straight.com/article-247860/geof-glass-how-canadas-new-copyright-law-will-affect-you
Blaine Kyllo, Straint.com http://www.straight.com/article-130290/yes-our-copyright-law-can-get-your-ass-sued