Thursday, July 10, 2008

T minus 10...9...8...7...6...


“keyboard check!”




“ok, that's good. Internet connection?”




“ok, quiet everybody!”

Hi! I'm Loud, and this is post number One Hundred and Fifty.

This is a post that I've been mulling over in my head for what must be two weeks now, because I a) don't want to screw up a cool milestone, b) wanted to secure some guest posts (more on this later), and c) I procrastinate. It has been my intention from the beginning of the creative process for this post to address the issues raised by Bill C-61, which you may know by a different name: “CDMCA” or “Canadian Digital Millenium Copyright Act”. Those who already know what this is can probably skip to the next paragraph. If you don't know what it is, you'll probably want to start by asking “should I care about this bill?”. The fact that you are reading these words is a strong indicator that you are using a computer (hey, someone could have printed this out for you, or copied it longhand if they were really, really bored). That is all the information I need to say unreservedly that you should care about Bill C-61. In fact, that is all the information I need to say unreservedly that you should oppose Bill C-61!

“...And hence it is, that he who attempts to get another man into his absolute power, does thereby put himself into a state of war with him: it being to be understood as a declaration of design upon his life...”

-John Locke, Two Treatises on Government

By lobbying for (or drafting, if you ask the more cynical pundits) legislation such as Bill C-61, the content cartels that have come to dominate media are placing themselves into a state of war with each and every citizen. In having DRM and contracts supercede Canadian law, Bill C-61 is effectively giving large, established industries total control over your legal rights to use media. And what of “fair use” or “fair dealing”? Since you are ONLY allowed to use copyright work for non-infringing purposes UNLESS you would have to circumvent a “digital lock” (DRM by any other name) in order to get your hands on the content. There are some narrow exceptions to this rule, for educational and research purposes, but these will not help the average consumer, or creator. You have NO fair-dealing rights unless the publisher wants you to have it. In other words, fair-dealing is no longer a right, it is a privilege. Any so-called “rights” you are given under C-61 (and there are a few) are not rights at all, but priviliges. The operative word here is “privilege”: in a world of legally-protected “digital locks”, true freedom of speech and creativity will belong only to the privileged. You're probably asking what this has to do with “absolute power”, and so I shall indulge your curiosity. Everything you know is derived from something you read, watched, saw, heard, and so on (epistemologists STAY OUT OF THIS ONE, WE'LL HAVE THE DEBATE LATER!). How you relate to what you know is determined in a similar fashion. You read about, talk about, and interpret data. Most of what you think comes from what we call culture, be it science, literary criticism, novels, music, film, or a blog. While there is always an element of personal experience and reflection, what you think is derived at least in part from what other people think, and have recorded for you to reflect on. Bill C-61 is part of a strategy by the “dinosaur” content providers to dominate culture completely. Their power used to be held in check by limited copyright terms (so that no one publisher could censor a work by buying up the copyright and never publishing it, for example), and what is called “fair dealing” or “fair use”. By extending copyright terms, by eliminating fair use rights through legally-entrenched DRM, by seeking out and suing scapegoat after scapegoat, they seek to control you by law, by code, and by fear*. They seek to control the horizontal and the vertical; they hope to control everything you see and hear. If they are allowed to succeed in this, they will gain control over what you think, or at the very least how you think. Thought creates action (again, philosophers, that argument is for another day), and therefore it is not unreasonable to say that corporate control of culture is a form of absolute authority. Therefore, the content providers and anyone else pushing Bill C-61 have entered into a state of war with you, and every other Canadian Citizen.

*If you want to read more about this, I suggest Free Copyright, by Lawrence Lessig, in which this issue is explored in detail.

Of course, the Lockean defense of my perceived right to exercize lethal force should recording industry execs ever knock on my door is hampered by the double-edged sword that is Lockean philosophy. While no fan of arbitrary authority, Locke was an avowed lover of personal property, which is exactly what the content cartel says it's protecting from “pirates”. This is a useful tactic for the industry and its lobbyists; who doesn't want to brand their opponent a “scurvy dog” after all? The most important thing that you or I can do when we talk about this issue is reveal to the uninitiated that this is not a black-and-white debate, that there is a middle ground in this so-called “war”. The goal of the moderates – our goal – is to satisfy the need to protect content from piracy without running roughshod over the rights of consumers, and fellow creators. The current Bill C-61 DOES NOT accomplish this goal. Here are some examples of how it unfairly limits the rights of consumers:

  • If you have media files on your hard drive, it will be illegal to make backup copies of your hard drive for the purposes of data security (Bill C-61 only allows only one copy of a media file for each device you own and devices that will be used with them, a backup copy on your PC's external drive, or your Apple Time Machine would be two copies associated with the PC)

  • While you will be legally allowed to make a backup copy of a commercial DVD, you will be able to do so ONLY if you do not bypass a “digital lock” to do so. Hey, guess what EVERY COMMERCIAL DVD has on it?

  • You will only be able to TIVO/TV-Tune/Timeshift programming for the purposes of watching it once at a more convenient time. Want to watch that last Battlestar Galactica ep again to see if you missed anything the first time, or want to show it off to your friends tomorrow? Seems you're out of luck!

I am no commercial pirate. In fact, I do actually buy content or go without, I don't pirate stuff just because I don't want to spend money on it. But if Bill C-61 is law, I would be branded a criminal, even though I DO NOT engage in or profit from piracy. I like to have recordings of shows that can watch without having to wait for the DVD box set, which I'll probably buy anyway if I like a series enough to record it and watch it multiple times! I like to have multiple copies of files sometimes, because I dual-boot Windows and Linux, and while I can read the Windows drive when I'm in Linux, the reverse is not true. I haven't ever actually ripped a DVD, but I do enjoy having the option open to me. I am not a pirate, but I will lose the right to manage my content in a non-infringing manner if the Bill passes. So will you. In addition to the Wikipedia links for background, Free Culture, and the Bill itself, you may want to avail yourself of more information. Here are some starting points to get you on your way.

Free Your Culture, Free Your Mind

Having established that bill C-61 does not represent in any way the ideal relationship between creators and consumers, I suppose the onus is now on me to say what would constitute such an arrangement. My answer can now be seen perched above even the title of my blog: Creative Commons is – at least for me – the best solution to the problem. If you haven't checked out my license agreement out of curiousity already, go do it now. That being said, I understand that as a voluntary initiative, Creative Commons is only half a solution. You can – and should – be a part of that half, but don't lose sight of larger goals.

The key elements of a whole solution in my view are not terribly different. What I think is necessary is to retain the flexible nature of CC, and to make “some rights reserved” the legal default for any work not registered as being otherwise (those with strong commercial interests, or a desire for more complete control over their work would be allowed to reserve all rights for a nominal fee. A copyright registry as proposed by Lawrence Lessig is also a brilliant way to simplify the process of getting permissions for work still under copyright). I think that authors should be given the right to determine the terms under which their work will be sold, which is a right that content providers or any other sort of middleman should have. Yes, it is their investment in the artist that they are protecting, but if a particularly cautious label doesn't want to publish the work of an artist whose terms are particularly liberal, I'm sure that there would be many like-minded publishers ready and willing to take that artist onboard. I think that in any system, people should not buy media that comes with terms they find objectionable. Under Bill C-61's proposed legislation, this would be a very large amount of media, and should the bill be passed into law, then we should not grumble, we should not pirate, and above all we should not buy. Let the market show the industry that unfair terms will not be tolerated, or else it is not they, but we who are to blame for rolling over and allowing restrictions to be placed on our freedoms.

I hereby open the floor to guest posters and reader submissions. Over the next while, I will augment this post with different views (some of them my own) on what an “ideal copyright system” would be, and relevant explorations of the topic of copyright at large. I've already contacted some of you about guest posts, but anyone I know is immediately welcome to send me one. Submissions from anyone who doesn't know me go to Loud(dot)Blog(at)gmail(dot)com. Any editing I do will be for spelling, grammar, and clarity if absolutely need be.

Final Notes: read Little Brother, a Creative Commons-licensed book by Cory Doctorow. So far it is a pretty good read. Thanks go to Gold for the tip. Join the facebook group “Fair Copyright For Canada” as well as your local chapter. Attend a meeting or two, offer to meet with your MP. This legislation will affect you, so I suggest you try to affect it in return.


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