Sunday, December 09, 2007

Letter to Prentice

Here is my letter to the Minister of Industry, Jim Prentice. In the interest of Fair Use and Full-Disclosure, I cribbed two paragraphs from an eloquent letter posted to a Facebook group. Regular readers will enjoy figuring out which is which!

I am deeply concerned about the upcoming Act to Amend the Copyright Act for several reasons I will outline in this letter.

This is one of the most important issues of our generation. Unbalanced copyright attacks creativity and it threatens the economy. Economists know that excessive copyright regulation is a form of business subsidy that creates inherently inefficient monopolies, increasing costs while hindering creativity and innovation. As the Minister of Industry, I’m certain you are aware of this fact, and no doubt you’ve correctly adjusted the bill to prevent any threat to Canada’s economy. Like you did with the softwood lumber deal.

Increasing the complexity and scope of the law threatens to criminalize an entire generation for enjoying Canadian culture. This would entail huge enforcement and security costs for Canada with no prospect for success beyond bringing the law into disrepute. And for what? The law would not stop pirates, but the most innovative players in Canadian technological and cultural industries would be hobbled, placed at a disadvantage relative to their American competitors.

It was an artist who told me about this. A Canadian artist who sells cds at shows to make ends meet. She is a highly educated, highly respected musician who deserves nothing less than the full-throated support of an office of Industry and Heritage to allow her to succeed. If she moves to France to play, that’s where her tax dollars will go. When I pay to download her music from her site, that’s where my money will go too.

I brought together some ideas to make my point about the issue of copyrighting in Canada. The companies you have consulted with are currently refusing to pay artists for sale of their products which has resulted in a strike in the US. These people are not protecting artists, they are protecting themselves against the discomfort of innovation necessary to rescue them from outdated business models.

Passport Canada underwent a security breach and no-one from Passport or Service Canada had any idea until a free, independent, peer review took place when a regular Canadian citizen applied for his passport and discovered the flaw. Small companies who use open-source platforms always innovate ahead of their competitors who then buy them and wade into deep mud, as has been seen by Youtube’s initial success and current lawsuit. No-one wanted their money until Google bought them, only then was Viacom suddenly threatened by illegal videos.

Finally, our universities and libraries are some of the finest to be found anywhere. We pay huge amounts of money to attend world-class schools and we deserve bang for our buck. In Montreal, the John Molson School of Business is one of the highest attended programs in my university and threatening their ability to teach software and archive content is ludicrous. As the Minister of Industry, you must take charge of creating the very workforce you oversee. Our success can be unprecedented with the right leadership.

I have no delusions about the overall agenda of this government. When revisions to the criminal code relating to young offenders are compared against this act, the appalling destruction of our softwood lumber industry and the recent SPP summit in Montebello, I am certain that you and the other members of your cabinet will waste no breath on public conferences or indeed expert opinion.

The budget of the office of the Status of Women in Canada has been reduced to a pittance, as has the budget for the Canada Council for the Arts. I have no doubt that the student loan guarantee program is next, to be replaced with Lifetime Learning only available to those who can get a bank account and afford to create an RRSP. By defunding groups most likely to disagree with you, you suspect you are better protected from public dissent. Rest assured Mr. Prentice, Erstwhile minister of Industry, you will look back wistfully at the glorious times when you knew where the money came from and could more easily track the strategies of artists, students and women.

Yours very unhappily,

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