Friday, September 30, 2011

The copyright bill watcher's field guide

With the retabling of federal copyright legislation, poet and writer John Degen has posted a fact sheet and list of Do's and Dont's for people thinking about this legislation. Most of the attention seems to be being paid to digital locking provisions, but there is so much more that should concern and alarm writers and publishers. A few of each of Degen's observations:
Don’t assume that if some fair dealing is good, more fair dealing will be great – The pressure is on by so called user-rights activists to endlessly expand the fair dealing provision within the Copyright Act. More pernicious than just the adding of new categories to fair dealing (see C-11’s new “Education” category) is the free-culture movement’s desire to take logical, established category definitions and make them so vague (again, see “Education”) that just about any use will fall under them. Fair Dealing was designed as a necessarily limited provision for use. If we remove the limits, we terminally weaken copyright. I am hoping for clarifying amendments in the fair dealing section of C-11.

Do share – The Internet’s impact on the sharing of culture is indisputable. Never has it been easier for creators and cultural professionals to get their work out there and gather audience and/or readers around it. I think we should all be experimenting as boldly and fearlessly as we can with new business models for cultural distribution, but always with a firm grasp on our rights.

Don’t confuse actual sharing with forced-sharing (also known as taking) – Any three-year old knows the difference between wanting to share and being forced to share. Free-culture businesses such as Google and YouTube are making billions of dollars selling advertising on top of freely shared content. Fair enough. But when the sharing is forced (Google Books, YouTube “mash-ups” that go far beyond fair dealing) then copyright has been ignored. Don’t give in to this often intentional conflation.

Do love schools and libraries – the cultural sector has always been and should always be the strongest supporters of and partners with education and libraries. I recommend all creators and cultural professionals volunteer their time and content as much as they can in both libraries and schools.

Don’t let this love turn you into a content doormat – Sometimes love hurts. Such is the case right now when a Canadian cultural collective (Access Copyright) finds itself having to fight the misguided free-culture impulses of some of our traditional partners. This goes back to the difference between sharing and taking. The universities and colleges currently refusing to negotiate with Access Copyright want to continue to use Canadian creative content without having to pay for it. This is not about a fantastic professor you know inviting you to speak in her classroom and not having the budget to pay you; this is about extraordinarily well-financed post-secondary institutions wanting to cut collective licensing out of their expense lines altogether.
Degan is the literature officer for the Ontario Arts Council, but is careful always to state that his views are his own and not of his employer, the OAC.

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