Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas Holiday: Day Two

Where is the spotlight this time? It began in many places, previous events that culminate up whenever the family is together. These tiny beginnings all coalesce and they are recalled in sequence depending on who is telling which story. Contorted crying faces, the gnashing of teeth, the pulling of hair. It is all so difficult and so satisfying.

Simple things become impossible, and oddly, the insurmountable seems illusory and perfectly doable at the back of the stage where all the sandbags and ropes hang waiting. At the front the lights play off emotional faces searching for sympathy from onlookers. At the front the lights shine off the sequins so brightly you can’t see the rips or loose threads. Instead of growing up, you grow out. Thin, bright and unreal.

She called me from the mountains the day after she arrived. “I’m here and so are they. They’re eating each other.” It had been easier apparently than cleaning out the kitchen to cook something more mundane. She ran on fumes for a few hours, a bulldozer in the china shop and dug a beachhead from which to make next moves. He called in from other mountain tops too far north for an air-drop, so we did our best and manned the cannons for a long walk back to the island.

A magic green dragon is bagged and carried from her cliff-face to the circus. She eyes the loud birds through white bars and coughs corrosive spit balls when the door is closed. Her breath could melt bars and the cement floor if she was home, but this place is wide, fluorescent and exhausting. She challenges each powerful squawk with her galactic eyes and waits quietly for a chance to stomp out roaring; to return home.

A tiny journey turns the spotlight from a quiet cannibal gathering to the desperate, the frightening, the complete shock of a rear-end run around the city. A small crash and red cheeks become the divas flailing hands and weepy face. The shock of it all, the thrill. A trembling lower lip as he bravely faces papers and schedules and phone calls. Big hugs in the living room, deep sighs. All okay, he soldiers on.

The light swings across the width of maps as a heart stops on a tarmac and a mermaid sardines in grey leather all night. Vertigo and dry air make static spark off sparkly scales vaselined and tightly tinned for the occasion. Tiny lights become rooms, squares of circuitry enlarge into roofs and doors and windows. We hug and stretch and stroke the cats hello.

A broken thumb picks out notes on a banjo. They float out from between mountain sides and find a road, a saxophone’s bell, a smouldering roar. She distracts the women long enough to take their teeth from legs and handy glasses. Her notes meet the winter fruit in the Rockies, and further to the family ham in a craggy, coastal suburb. The dragon calls and lifts our music. Until we are together again, you work stage left, I’m hauling ropes stage right. Leave the lights on him and meet me out back tomorrow.

only to be expected

Christmas Holiday Day One:

The corkscrew fits directly into the bottleneck and as I turn it down further in it breaks off completely. A small metal screw is sticking out of the wine bottle and in my hand is the corkscrew without the screw. I briefly imagine that the universe is telling me not to drink, that I can simply sit back and enjoy my evening with juice or water. I imagine smiling warmly at my family as they arrive. I picture us hugging and saying hello, sitting down and catching up sober and clear-headed. I look back at the wine bottle and regain my senses.

I try with a pair of pliers to get the screw out of the cork and when I accidentally close the pliers on my fingers drawing blood, I take them back to the toolbox. My eyes rest on my oldest, most trusted tool I own. A long-handled 4" hammer that has seen me through thick and thin since I got it ten years ago. I put the wine bottle between my knees and hook the corkscrew in the hammer tail and haul on it. Not much glass broke off with the hammer head braced against the mouth. After a few more tries the bottle opens and I can enjoy a glass of cheap, sweet wine secure in the knowledge that any family encounter that comes up will be well cushioned with fuzzy awareness and small shards of broken glass.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Myth vs Truth: biased comparisons from Propaganda 101

In recent discussions about the proposed Act to Amend the Copyright Act in Canada, ACTRA (the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists) has made it's position public with a binary argument Truth vs Myth. The idea being that ACTRA's opinion is the 'truth' and the opinions of those who disagree with ACTRA is a 'myth'. It's not terribly elegant, but in the toolbox of language, the cliche is as reliable as a hammer.

Like any far-reaching and diverse issue, there are many truths and almost-truths and grey areas that need to be explored. For example, ACTRA suggests that instead of being on the side of big-business, they are on the side of artists. Well, this is almost true. They do represent many artists, particularly those who have their work published by large companies. They fail to mention how many artists are against the venture and how many small-businesses could be harmed by the proposal.

In the interest of generating more discussion instead dumbing down positions (which should tell us all something about what ACTRA thinks of us), I offer this excellent response to ACTRA's position. It was written by Geoffrey Glass of Simon Fraser and I think it is a great step towards an actual conversation about this issue rather than catch-phrases and buzzwords.

ACTRA's official position can be found here.

Here is Mr. Glass's response:

ACTRA, which supports stronger copyright controls and the implementation of the WIPO treaty, has published a document titled "Myths and Truths about the Proposed Changes to Canad's Copyright Act". This document is problematic because it ignores the gravest concerns of critics of the proposed law, while providing incomplete or misleading information about some matters. I will go over it point by point.

* ACTRA claims that the new law will not make time-shifting illegal (time-shifting is the practice of recording something to watch it later - e.g. on a VCR). Currently, Canadians are permitted to make copies for private use - including time shifting. The major industry lobbies pushing for copyright revision want the government to remove this exemption. We don't know whether that's in the bill because, as ACTRA says, the text of the bill hasn't yet been made public.

* There are serious problems with legal protection for so-called digital locks ("DRM" or "TPMs"). ACTRA's comparison of these locks to physical locks on your house or car are misleading. If laws like this were applied to cars and houses, it would be illegal to change the locks on your own house. In the case of a digital lock on a DVD, for example, the lock is part of your DVD player - but it's not there to protect you; it's there to protect Hollywood from you. This law would make it illegal for you to break the lock on your own property.

* ACTRA claims that protection of DRM will produce more choice for consumers. In fact, consumers have resoundingly rejected technology that restricts their ability to view or make legitimate use of the media they purchase. That "Canadians have fewer digital services and pay higher prices than U.S. customers" is a red herring. This applies to many goods and services in Canada, from books to computer hardware. We are a smaller market; accordingly, we suffer from less choice, less market competition, until recently a lower dollar - and thus from higher prices.

* Canada has been lobbied heavily by Hollywood, the American recording industry, and by Canadian businesses heavily dependent on these industries (such as ACTRA). The U.S. ambassador and trade representative have personally pressured Canada to implement these changes. Canada is under no obligation to ratify the treaty - the United States certainly isn't known for ratifying treaties it doesn't like (such as Kyoto, the International Criminal Court, or the international treaty to restrict land mines). In fact, it wasn't until 1988 that the United States got religion and implemented the 1883 copyright treaty mentioned by ACTRA.

* One of the central provisions of the WIPO treaty, and the one to which many Canadians are opposed, would make it illegal to circumvent DRM. The American DMCA implemented the same treaty, but went beyond the treaty's requirements. The United States is pressuring Canada to follow suit. Whether this qualifies as "mimicing" or not is beside the point.

* The privacy implications of WIPO ratification have concerned four Canadian privacy commissioners[1]. DRM built into the Windows operating system, for example, sends information to Microsoft. The infamous Sony rootkit opened up security vulnerabilities on the computers of legitimate customers.

* ACTRA is probably correct that the unauthorized downloading of copyrighted material is illegal in Canada, though there has been some question on this point. In fact, CRIA (the Canadian equivalent of the American recording industry association, which represents primarily American labels) wants to eliminate the levy on blank media (recordable CDs etc.) because they suggest it makes downloading legal.

* Hopefully ACTRA is correct that the music industry will not sue "single mums and innocent users" - though the same companies have not held back in the United States. It seems odd to want to change the law and eliminate levies otherwise.

* Interoperability problems between music players are not like the differences between Beta and VHS tapes. They are almost always the result of incompatible DRM schemes. Breaking DRM could allow music to be transferred between devices, but the new law would make that illegal.

* ACTRA is correct that the amendment is not expected to include a blank media levy. There is some question as to whether the existing levy compensates for downloading - as mentioned above.

* To the extent that the government has consulted with the Canadian public, the public has rejected the WIPO treaty. In 2001, a government consultation requested submissions from Canadians. Approximately 700 individuals and organizations responded. Of those who addressed the DRM-related provisions of the WIPO treaty, 93% were opposed[2]. Since then, there have been tremendous changes in the digital landscape. In 2001 there was no YouTube; the first iPod was only launched in October of that year. Nevertheless, there has been no subsequent public consultation and the government developed a bill to ratify WIPO.

* Commercial piracy, as is practiced in some parts of Asia, certainly hurts performers. WIPO implementation likely have little or no impact on piracy - all DRM can be circumvented; all it takes is one copy and the cat's out of the bag - both for commercial pirates, and for private filesharing. On the other hand, the economic impact of filesharing is ambiguous. A number of studies have found little or no evidence that filesharing results in a net loss of sales, as it can lead to increased exposure for artists. While some artists are likely hurt, others base their businesses on filesharing. The greatest threat of filesharing is not to performers, but to companies engaged in distribution and marketing - such as the large recording companies - who risk being cut out of the loop.

* The "old legal concepts" referred to by ACTRA may be copyright law itself. In place of the human rules of copyright, DRM substitutes the inflexible law of the machine. Legitimate freedoms that consumers had under copyright can simply be forbidden by digital locks, and there will be no recourse because circumventing these locks will be illegal. This kind of "choice" by performers will dramatically narrow the choices available to consumers (and to performers, as I explain below and it [4]).

* ACTRA is correct that the "making available" right would be new. I am not well versed on this. However, according to Professor Tom Flanagan it "ignores the consumer in favor of the producer, to solve problems that don't exist"[3].

* The apparent choice offered to performers is an illusion. For a long time, performers have been at the mercy of powerful distributors. For many performers, digital technology offers the opportunity for more contact with their fans and for new modes of distribution. This law would instead enhance the control of distributors and technology companies who control the DRM.

* I cannot know the reasons why ACTRA supports this law. The making available right would likely be economically beneficial to its members. Legal protection of DRM, however, would not. These are industries in transition. Some performers believe their livelihoods are at risk. Some are dependent on an American industry that would benefit if Canada adopts these laws (because they control the DRM, because it would prevent innovative competitors from establishing themselves, because it would entrench their ideology of control). Some believe that their hard work and creativity are being disrespected. Established channels of distribution and marketing, and established patterns of business oriented around the creation of hit movies and chart-topping music are changing and being undercut. A technology offered a silver bullet to stop copying is compelling, especially when set against the specter gangs of arrogant teenagers and twenty-somethings eager to get their entertainment for free without paying a penny. The companies who sell DRM benefit from it - they gain a market, and they gain control[4]. But DRM doesn't work for performers or artists - or for consumers. And that is why many Canadian creators, consumers, and citizens oppose this law.

[1] http://www.michaelgeist.ca/content/view/1389/195
[2] http://www.digital-copyright.ca/node/4428
[3] http://www.michaelgeist.ca/content/view/1174/
[4] http://www.geof.net/blog/2007/12/08/bad-canadian-copyright

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Made in Canada



While I've been on the subject of our beloved Industry Minister espousing policies against Canadian industry, this seems like a great time to discuss why our government is actually preventing a successful company from selling Canadian products in Canada. The ZENN car, Zero Emissions No Noise, runs on a battery that is plugged into a regular socket. It is being sold in Europe and the United States, but not here, because until recently, it was illegal on the road. It has been approved now, with the requirement that provinces individually regulate it's use individually. It's available in B.C. only right now, though it is made in Quebec.

It's a publicly traded company as of now and I love using money to stick it to the federal government. This year, I'm buying Canadian.

Monday, December 17, 2007

To Market To Market

Can it happen? I think so. People everywhere are talking about Radiohead's internet album release, and though it's only the latest manifestation of artists innovating away from corporate business practices, it's getting quite a buzz. Not everyone can profit the same way Radiohead did and not everyone has a financial cushion to fall back on if their idea doesn't work. Many artists have been touring as a main source of income as most of the time it's the artist who pays for the tour, the record company only pays for promotion. Comedians work the same way and often their albums are released on smaller, private labels.

Television is different. As my boy Marshall so eloquently said about light bulbs, "the medium is the message". He was talking about the way that information is disseminated and then absorbed by an audience. If the audience fundamentally changes based on the type of media they are exposed to, that in itself is a form of communication.

So, everyone has a TV. And if we don't, there is something very very wrong with us. We wonder about people who live without television. We contemplate our shared experiences, (that sharing due to television) and we recall our recent history, particularly in North America. What wasn't documented before television seems distant and somehow unreal. One of my favourite things to watch on television is people discussing the internet.

With the huge infrastructure created in the dotcom blitz of the nineties, there are now ample platforms out there for information sharing. And internet information, though similar in content to television, is participatory. This changes the audience in fundamental ways. Now the audience can interact with the content with varying degrees of effort, and most importantly, the audience is not based in a static demographic. This is hell on wheels for a marketing executive who's lived Neilson ratings their entire professional career and who suddenly has to allow for someone watching a viral video from any internet cafe on the planet, and who can alter the video, make it their own, and re-upload from anywhere else.

This takes much power away from market engineers who use cross-reference data to decide what to advertise to whom based on age, race, income, gender, location, location, location. And treating the entire internet audience like one big theatre is a huge expense. They have to make sure their content shows up first on search engines, but they want security over their product. They want many hits on their sites, but they don't want the word-of-mouth which in cyberspace is P2P. It's a hassle, and for many, it's a stretch for an old, leathery, half-curdled mind.

I sympathize. Really.

So now there are artists out there who are self-determining, creating their work, promoting themselves through self-funded tours and releasing their projects to a very specialized audience who specifically wants their product. There are now web-designers and creators who are writing their own code, peer reviewing for free and uploading their own sites and applications to other sites. In a climate like this, marketing dollars tend to go down the drain. One, because the word-of-mouth and viral properties of web information are faster and more efficient than advertising messages, and two, marketing practices do not successfully apply to the new technology. So instead of innovating, they try to turn internet content into television.

But some of the content we want so badly comes from highly expensive, professionally produced creators who come from the television platform. True, so how do these small production companies go fair trade? Start trading. The Daily Show is one of the most downloaded and uploaded shows available on the web. I have a feed on my facebook profile from Comedy Central that actually gives me segments of the show in small pieces. Adult Swim took the idea further by releasing shows in 15 minute formats. Not great in terms of payoff when you've spent hundreds on a 52" behemoth for your 8'x9' living room with stonehenge-like speakers, but perfect for the internet platform. The Simpsons proved that animated shows can produce long-term profit, and with advanced animation technology, it is now possible to make short clips with fewer animators.

There are possibilities here for small groups who wish to create and produce their own content for direct upload and companies who sell products will pay for the privilege of advertising with a popular show. Youtube now has a revenue-sharing program for directors who upload popular content for free, and many websites have advertising paid for by companies who want their site linked to popular content.

NBC's the Office created webisodes in which small clips of one main story were produced on existing sets and released in pieces on the NBC website which play immediately after an ad. This is exactly the platform that can work for anyone able to make entertaining content. Most sit-coms can now openly joke about their own show's product placement in the true spirit of post-modernism, and the smaller the group, the more likely the correct market group will be reached.

Toyota has no reason to show me advertising. I'm a student, I live in a city with cheap mass transit, I don't have parking near my building and I try to be as green as I can. They are throwing good money after bad by putting car commercials next to shows I might watch and placing their products in content I might enjoy. I'm not their target market, and neither are lots of people who like similar things I do. In terms of product quality, is there any amount of advertising that will convince me to get a Blackberry? No. I had one for work and my complaints about it were consistent and loud. The company that makes them has done nothing to improve their product and no amount of messages I will get from them will convince me. I will however, tell everyone I know (as I did in a carrying voice for many months until my boss relented and gave me back my cellphone) and that message will disseminate faster than the paid advertising.

Small production companies such as those who created Tetes a Claques have an opportunity to get advertising dollars from companies who want to sell to the right audience. The size of the infrastructure of the production allows for profit-sharing and stakeholder participation. In large corporations, shareholders direct policy based on their own self-interest. Small companies can do exactly the same thing, but instead of the shareholders holding monthly board meetings, the shareholders actively participate in making their product. Producers and writers can have control over the quality and content of their work and production staff would answer to the show creators instead of distant names on paycheques.

Each show would still meet the standards of the WGA and the SAG and whomever wishes to advertise with them would simply negotiate as usual. The content can be directly uploaded and marketed accordingly not to do with television principles, or the show can be locally produced and broadcast on local stations. If the shows finally wish to sell to cable or network programs they can, but as entities capable of negotiating for a proper market share rather than as individuals selling intellectual property.

Fair Trade television. Taking the Market back from "Marketing".

pants'd!

It got drafty this morning in the offices of several high-profile communications companies. Worldwide Pants, producer of Late Night with David Letterman and the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson has taken steps towards negotiating with the writers union on an individual basis. In response to one of their production companies going off on their own and proposing an individual negotiation, the AMPTP suggested that the writer's union was disorganized and directionless.

Worldwide Pants has offered an interim agreement largely in line with the demands of the writers. In this way, the shows in question can continue, the writers can tentatively get what they deserve and negotiations can be pursued in a renewed spirit of partnership rather than opposition. Am I waxing too poetic? I was raised on picket lines and believe me, nothing is duller than standing around all day getting splinters from a sign proclaiming your wish to do your job.

I wish to congratulate the producers at Worldwide Pants for basing their offers on the power of thought. They have something they want done, they tacitly acknowledge the demands of their writers and they are coming to the table in order to meet a goal of producing rather than dismantling. Let's hope some of the bigger players get a whiff of good business practices in the days to come.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Home for the Holidays

Just when you think it can't get any crazier, the Department of Housing and Urban Development in the US has actually approved plans to demolish existing low-income housing and apartments that survived hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The claim is that the buildings are unlivable and that the new housing will be "mixed income" (read: co-op) and could take two years to build.

Structural engineers, legal experts and local residents have all been in the building. They are not unlivable, they are in need of cleaning and small renovation such as baseboard replacement and floor tile repair.

The continued displacement of New Orleans residents over two years after the hurricanes is akin to Terry Gilliam's powerful film, Brazil. The bureaucracy and apathy residents are facing when attempting to get what is theirs from their local, state and federal governments along with such organizations as the Red Cross, is faulty by design. This type of behaviour is not only meant to block access to programs and activities available, but in fact to deter anyone from attempting to make changes at all.

While we absorb hard-hitting news stories about which toys are most popular and which contain the most lead this year, I'm gratified to know that the US government is doing precisely what it was designed to do.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Reply from the Bloc

I wrote to Gilles Duceppe directly about the looming Copyright Reform Act. Not only is he the leader of a strong and fearless opposition party, he is my MP and represents my interests in Ottawa.

Here is the reply I received today:

Dear Ms. ********:

Thank you for your e-mail of December 7 regarding the looming introduction of an intellectual property bill by the Honourable Jim Prentice. We appreciate your concern about this important issue, which affects all of us directly.

Rest assured that, should the bill be introduced, the Bloc Québécois will take a hard look at it in the best interests of all stakeholders, especially artists.


Yours sincerely,




Karine Lafontaine
Correspondence Coordinator Assistant
Office of the Leader of the Bloc Québécois

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

It's all in, uh, ON, your head

Aqsa Parvez died of strangulation in the early hours of this morning. She had fought with her father who is now charged with her murder. The articles in the following two links discuss the story:

CBC

Globe and Mail


In the second story, as discussed by the Globe and Mail, the events of the evening and this morning are discussed, along with the bail measures, the story of the rest of the family and other details about the trial.

I notice in the first article that the CBC cannot stop from falling all over it's own feet to discuss the "issue" of Muslim girls veiling and whether or not families have a right to force them to do so. They called experts from Canadian Muslim associations, they have quotes from the girls friends about her shopping habits and how much she didn't want to wear the big, scary, oppressive scarf.

I wonder why there is no discussion from expert paediatricians about the commonality of family abuse ending in death and how often girl children are the focus of family abuse. I wonder why there aren't quotes from the girl's friends about the father's history of violence as discussed by her brothers earlier today. Finally, the predictable symptoms of abuse seen by children's groups, women's rights groups and health officials regularly.

Does anyone out there truly believe that this man who regularly beat his children would have calmed down and peacefully gone about the loving actions of fatherhood if she had put a scarf on her head? Do these discussions do anything but reinforce the stereotype of Muslims as misogynistic, violent and irrational people?

None of this is about a scarf. It's about a woman, who died this morning at the hands of an all-too-common personality: an abusive father.

Monday, December 10, 2007

response from the CBC

In recent days I wrote to the CBC Ombudsman about the lack of coverage to be found on the network of the upcoming Act to Amend the Copyright Act. CBC Search Engine posed questions on their website and tried to get a meeting with the Minister of Industry, Jim Prentice, but couldn't. The only other mention of it was a short article in the technology section. So I fired off this email:

Mr. Carlin,

It is with deep concern that I write to you today concerning the total lack
of coverage on the upcoming Amendment to the Copyright Act, on the notice
paper for next week. This is a significant issue and I am shocked to find
that only CBC's Search Engine has discussed the issue at all. The following
topics are areas of coverage:

1. The bill will severely limit the use of items purchased for full-retail
price by consumers. We will lose control over what we own.

2. Canadian businesses will be hobbled against innovation and independent
peer review.

3. Canadian archivists and librarians will be unable to preserve and promote
Canadian cultural items.

4. Emerging Canadian artists will be unable to promote themselves.

5. Canadian universities will be ill-equipped to teach students.

6. The Harper government laid waste to the Liberal leadership with a
centrepiece promise of transparency and accountability. As no consultation
is being undertaken with Canadians, they are in clear violation of their own
mandate.

We deserve a real discussion of this issue on the CBC and other news
organizations. It should be on the general website, the National, the Hour
and all over CBC Radio.

Sincerely,
*********

I was pleased to receive this reply today:

Dear Ms. *******:

I write to acknowledge receipt of your e-mail, which I have shared with senior programmers in CBC News and Current Affairs.

Yours truly,

Vince Carlin
CBC Ombudsman

Does it make a difference? It does to me. The nine programmers he refers to were cc'd on the email.

more strike talk

Sound Opinion

Here is a link to a great radio show discussing the recent lawsuits against university students in Oregon.

soundopinions show

1 In what is turning into a regular Sound Opinions segment: “The Recording Industry vs. The Consumer,” Jim and Greg turn this week to a news item coming out of Oregon. Earlier this year the RIAA filed a lawsuit accusing 17 unnamed suspected University of Oregon students of illegally sharing music. The suspects are identified only by an Internet address, and industry lawyers have demanded that the university identify them. Previously when the RIAA has done this, universities cooperate. But the University of Oregon’s response has been quite remarkable. UO officials are refusing to identify the students without an investigation, saying that this would compromise their privacy and property rights. Oregon’s Attorney General has backed the school and is accusing the RIAA of bullying. Jim and Greg speak to Tony Green, a reporter at the Oregonian, about what is fast becoming a contentious battle.

Here are more links to the show notes.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Letter to Dion

And here is my letter to Stephane Dion, the current leader of the official opposition:

The proposed Amendment to the Copyright Act to be tabled on Monday is simply unacceptable for any Canadian citizen.

As an academic, I know you understand how important it is to teachers to be able to use excerpts of recorded television shows, artistic productions, speeches and software in order to properly educate Canadians. Librarians and archivists in this country deserve nothing less than the highest support by legislation and funding to promote and care for the cultural property of our country. The guarantee of access to our artistic creations is what allows us to develop our history, our sovereignty, our very identity.

As a Quebecer, I'm sure you know how deeply the need to protect our cultural integrity is felt. We deserve a government that will not only discuss our culture publicly, but who will work to develop and promote it worldwide. For centuries now we have struggled with assimilation that has been felt in First Nations communities, Atlantic Provinces and Quebec and we will not calmly let the waters submerge us in North American homogenization.

The Harper government is taking your party's current difficulties as a signal to act as though mandated. They are not consulting with Canadians, they are not building coalitions, they are not seeking expert opinions and they are not delivering on their promise to create openness and transparency. You are the leader of the opposition and this moment is pivotal. This is not the time to live to fight another day. Our industries will be criminalized out of innovation; they will fall like softwood into codless seas. Our artists will be financially subdued into silence and financial ruin. Our students will circle old concepts like vultures with no hope of a new idea or future of rewarded intelligence.

You propose to lead my country. Stand and do it now.

Sincerely,
FWM

Committment to disclosure con't

...this too.

Committment to disclosure

The following can be found on the website of Canadian Heritage

Copyright Policy Branch

The Copyright Policy Branch of the Department of Canadian Heritage, in co-operation with the Intellectual Property Policy Directorate of Industry Canada, is responsible for formulating and implementing an integrated Canadian copyright policy.

Its task is to develop an up-to-date legislative framework and to continually improve the balance of copyright protection in Canada. This involves taking into account legal and technological developments which affect copyright protection, whether in Canada or abroad.

The Copyright Policy Branch works with creators, authors, producers, user groups, interest groups and the public at large to develop appropriate policies underlying the Copyright Act.

The Copyright Policy Branch Web site is intended to:

* provide general information to the public;
* update stakeholders on a regular basis about copyright - related news and developments;
* seek comments from and generally consult with stakeholders and other interested parties on legislative proposals, discussion papers and other policy documents.

Letter to Williams

This is what I wrote to Danny Williams, the premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, one of the loudest critics of the Harper government.

Dear Mr. Williams,

As a steadfast opponent of the Harper government, I hope you will stand publicly against the proposed Amendment to the Copyright Act. This bill is not on economically inviable, it criminalizes regular Canadians who support the arts in this country.

You stand at a place in time where universities are desperately underfunded, where Canadian culture is being disappeared and where long-standing Canadian industries are falling like softwood into codless depths.

The current Ministers of Industry, Heritage and Education will not stand to protect and support the people of Newfoundland and Labrador as they navigate difficult times. They stood against you on the oil deal and they stand against you now. New industries, artists and educators cannot innovate, create or teach without the full-throated support of a government willing to fund and legislate towards access and promotion. This is a bad bill and your constituents deserve to know. This is one more way of ensuring that satellite industries that could develop in the wake of your impressive oil coup will not be supported, but in fact will be criminalized by the provisions in the bill that act against fair-use and open source reviews.

I hope you will join with us to stand against this backwards, draconian bill that impoverishes all of Canada.

Sincerely,
FWM

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,
FWM

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Sound Consultation

When you're finished contacting your MPs and the PM and the Industry Minister, the following groups need to be contacted to take a loud, forceful, public stand against the upcoming Act to Amend the Copyright Act:

SOCAN (Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada)

Contact page
email

Writer's Union of Canada

Songwriter's Association of Canada

Quebec Writer's Federation

Canadian Library Association


Freedom of Expression Committee

Book and Periodical Council

Quebec Library Association

Council of Prairie and Pacific University Libraries

Library and Archives Canada

Association of Canadian Publishers

Canadian Music Publishers Association


Documentary Organization of Canada

CBC Ombudsman

We all stand to lose something in this, and organizations like these need to stand together.

Friday, December 07, 2007

My Letter to Layton

Jack Layton, the champion of the little guy and supposed friend of unions everywhere needs to oppose the amendment to the Copyright Act being tabled next week. Here is my letter to him:

Hello Mr. Layton,

I am writing to you to voice my strong opposition to the amendment tabled for next week. Like much of the 'legislation' proposed by this government, the bill claims to be one thing when it is in fact another. Does anyone seriously believe that a government that drastically reduced the Council for the Arts budget is acting out of sympathy for Canadian artists? Indie artists work extremely hard for free most of the time. For shows where they are paid, it is generally not enough to cover the expenses of getting their instruments to the venue. Radio appearances are done for free, albums are produced locally with dedicated engineers who often work without pay and if anyone can afford promotional items such as t-shirts or keychains, they are sold at a loss. This bill will severely limit the ability of emerging artists to promote themselves.

Canadian writers are among the best in the world. We are known for winning international prizes and so many of our great novels are created thanks to the Canada Council for the Arts. To sell their work, writers count on festivals, indie publishers, free magazines, and most importantly cross-promotion to succeed as writers. This bill will limit writers from discussing their and each other's work, their ability to offer excerpts to various media and to reach other markets.

Canadian universities are sought after the world over by intelligent and passionate people who desire the highest education available. University collaboration is only one of the reasons, the others include our libraries, publications and educators. Limiting librarians from archiving and discussing files is the very antithesis of higher education. Professors failing to discuss and distribute work is anathema to intelligent learning and limiting the availability of Ph.D. students from publishing their work due to fair-use clauses is very simply an attack on thought.

Scientists worldwide depend on the participation of other scientists in peer reviews to test theories, medicines and technologies. Software engineers independently peer-review their work in a format known as open-source in order to instantly harness the vast innovation available everywhere by passionate, willing participants. Without these, we would never have some of the technologies we rely on day to day.

The Conservative government is not out to protect artists. If they were, SOCAN would be funded to the gills, the writers' union would be as strong as the military and artists wouldn't have to wear out the knees in their pant legs begging for tiny percentages of revenue generated by their own products. This bill is draconian, uncalled-for and simply unbecoming of Canadians everywhere.

Protect artists. Oppose the bill.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

A spiritual intervention

Watch as striking Horror writers exorcise the demons in Hollyood!





Chasing their tails

So. This week it seems to be about privacy. Not so much me, but the fabulous workings of my government's leadership, who by the way, I did not vote for.

In the US, a wide-spread writer's strike has affected network and cable television shows across the board. Communication companies have reacted by refusing to negotiate and by firing production staff. The main complaint is that the writers of the shows and the promos and the webisdodes are not being paid for re-runs on the internet, legal downloads from network websites and dvd residuals. The companies claim that internet content is promotional only and cannot be counted as full content. DVD residuals actually are in the collective agreement, but they aren't being paid. Under the provisions of the WGA agreement, writers will be paid 4 cents for every dvd sold, at an average price of $19.99 US, with the understanding that as the dvd business increases, so will the share. They are asking for another 4 cents, making a total of 8 cents per dvd sold. The strike continues as the networks and cable companies refuse to budge.

Next, Passport Canada underwent a gigantic security breach, not due to a virus, a hacker or a mistake on the part of a minister, but due simply to the way the website works. A regular person, an IT worker for Algonquin Automotive found out simply by applying for his passport in the usual way. He is a curious person, so as he was finishing, he changed a few keystrokes and found basic personal information on other people, like driver's licenses, birth certificates and firearms licenses, at his fingertips. He immediately contacted Passport Canada who looked into the problem. The office now claims the breach is repaired (it isn't according to others) and an audit is underway.

Finally, this week is the likely the week that the Canadian version of the DMCA, Digital Millenium Copyright Act, is to be tabled. In it, the copyright provisions are so strenuous, if you were to purchase a cd for the full-price from a legitimate retailer, rip it on your computer unshared with anyone, put it on your mp3 player to listen to, you will have committed heinous, egregious, naughty naughty copyright infringement. You owe the company who sold you the cd serious money. You'll just have to purchase a copy for your mp3 player, a copy for your stereo and a copy for your phone. If your OS requires software updates that don't recognize your legally purchased file, you'd better buy another copy, or suffer the consequences of white collar criminals everywhere. You also can't unlock something to find out how it works, or record a television show in order to watch it later.

To review: big wealthy companies who are making billions of dollars on internet downloads and dvd sales are refusing to pay artists who create their products. They are lobbying our government and the US government to "protect their product" by claiming that artists are being ripped off by people who enjoy their work. The government's response is to clamp down on open-source and file sharing platforms in a spectacular bid to protect the interests of corporations seemingly under attack by the citizens who voted the government into power in the first place. The government reserves the right to distribute personal information to anyone anywhere due to a mistake brought to their attention by free independent peer review.

I'll be writing to the following people this week to ask for clarification, or at least a Canada Counsel for the Arts grant to fairly publish and distribute 8.5 x 11 laminated copies of my birth certificate, health card, high-school diploma, records of employment, lists of previous addresses, my unlisted phone number, email addresses, forum and social networking passwords and usernames and photo albums, which, once published, will be unwaveringly protected by my government as a consumer product. Woe be to those who attempt to copy them!

Find your mp and write to them.

Stephen Harper, our erstwhile Prime Minister
Jim Prentice, Minister of Industry
Josee Verner, Minister of Canadian Heritage

(an exhaustive list of government agencies to contact can be found here: Michael Geist.ca

Our news channels seem to have conspired to refuse to compete for a huge story, in clear violation of anti-trust laws in this country. The cbc ombudsman can be reached at the following coordinates on this subject:

ombudsman@cbc.ca

Mail:
Vince Carlin
Ombudsman
CBC
P.O. Box 500, Station A
Toronto, Ontario M5W 1E6
Fax: 416/205-2825
Tel.: 416/205-2978

The Globe and Mail, Letters to the Editor

The Globe and Mail, Senior Editors

Peter Mansbridge of CBC's The National

Telephone:
1-800-565-1422

Mail:
The National
Box 14,000 Station A
Toronto ON M5W 1E6

Ian Hanomansing of CBC's Canada Now

CBC News: Vancouver at Six Newsroom:
TEL: (604) 662-6802
FAX: (604) 662-6878

Mail:
CBC News: Vancouver at Six c/o CBC
Box 4600
Vancouver, BC
V6B 4A2

George Stephanopoulous of CBC's The Hour

Lloyd Robertson, ostensibly Canada's most trusted news anchor who hasn't mentioned this on CTV news yet.

Global News

Laws and Technology: Running to Catch Up

One of my favourite things to randomly repeat to strangers, usually when I'm at the bar is this: "Artists never suffer from people hearing their work." Even struggling artists just emerging from their careers know very well how important it is to get out there. The proof? All the free stuff they do! They do free radio appearances, appear at festivals for free, perform often for less than it costs them to get their equipment/instruments to the venue and if they get enough capital together for t-shirts or other swag, even, gasp, an album, it's invariably sold at a loss. Artists in fact need people to listen, enjoy, discuss, exchange, copy, distribute and re-distribute their work, otherwise they are artists of nothing so much as masturbation.

Open source code? That's based on a little thing the international medical profession calls 'peer review'. It's not mandatory, but it is telling that companies who ask for expert advice and get it for free from other experts because they love what they're doing and are interested and curious and willing to invest thought and innovation because of their passion will make significantly more money and claim more of the market share than their counterparts.

White-knuckled, frothy mouthed company execs however, who play chicken with artists who innovate, who withhold marketing/distribution dollars based on record sales, who refuse to seek advice from experts, whose leather executive seats are in fact stuffed with dead laurel leaves gained by becoming the distribution behemoths they are, are the only beings who will suffer from expert collaborative efforts released to willing audiences. Artists who become well-known for what they do will not suffer from discussion or peer to peer distribution. But there are some 6 figure business people whose backsides may need extra support when the stuffing in their chairs gets thin.

Where the issue is downloads and naughty naughty copying, here's the treat: study after study after study show that people who download most are also the most likely to make purchases.

I'll be writing letters this week.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Passports and Privacy, it's getting personal

For anyone out there who is fed up with the complicity of our government policy with that of the US, feel free to begin tearing your hair out now.

Remember when we could just cross the border with correct documentation? Remember the simplicity and speed with which truckers and businesspeople could simply go where they needed to go by proving they were citizens of Canada? Then in reaction to a terrorist incident which involved Canada in no way whatsoever, the government of the United States decided that Canadians needed passports in order to shop for cheap mp3 players, books and fishing tackle.

We complied, after all, that's what good neighbors do, and began a process by which the funding, size, number of employees, number of offices or even hours of business of Passport Canada were not augmented in the slightest, while Canadians who travel to the US without passports all of a sudden needed to get them. Chaos ensued, and I had a tall beer from the sidelines. The panic died down a little when a solution was implemented: Canadians would have an easier time getting their passports as now any Canadian citizen with a passport could guarantee the application of anyone else.

How does devaluing the passport promote security in any way? And why are we convinced that the terrorists and fraudsters, ostensibly who we're trying to stop, don't have guarantors they can call on? Fraud and embezzlement generally are undertaken by white men with university degrees, and the apparent terrorists who seem to be such a threat to North America are well-educated, mostly by us.

It gets better. Last week a guy filling out his application on-line was curious about the site and changed a few keystrokes to see what would happen. Personal information including social insurance numbers, driver's licenses and so on were readily available. He brought it to the attention of Passport Canada who took their site down for maintenance immediately. When they did, they claimed it was for other reasons. The site is back up and the problem still exists. You can very easily find personal information on other Canadians from Passport Canada, which I would call the jackpot since they provide basic documentation.

This must be bureaucratic retribution for the elimination of the citizenship of those hundreds of Canadians who weren't grandfathered into the country and only found out they'd been paying taxes as citizens for decades because no-one told them otherwise.

I just hope there aren't any naughty naughty terrorists who know how to use an internet browser that want to pose as shipping employees and want to CROSS THE BORDER!!!!!!!

That's the only way anyone is going to fix this nonsense; the privacy and security of Canadians everywhere is certainly the second prize.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

More on the strike: hooray for Eddie Izzard

Is rape a crime?

I ask because if that law enforcer in Ohio gets off for the unprovoked electrocution of a pregnant woman in front of her child, there is really no reason to continue to keep rape on the law books as an illegal act. Why? and how are these events related?

Simple. Victim-blaming is the first line of defense for anyone who has done anything wrong. Small children blame each other all the time, and in fact one of my favourite quotes from Hunter Thompson is the repeated latin phrase Res Ipsa Loquitor. It literally means "the thing speaks for itself". It is used often in negligence cases. I use the example of marrying one's divorce lawyer and then being surprised that the marriage falls apart.

It's everywhere really, and though the legal side of it is meant for tort cases, the argument has been carried out towards rape survivors for centuries. 'Your honour, what did she expect walking around like that/in that part of town/unescorted/with other girls like that/working as a prostitute/staying after class/knocking on doors/getting into his car...' ad nauseaum.

In this case, the apparent wrongdoing was towards the unborn child of the woman in question. Apparently, if the woman had properly announced her pregnancy, by wearing a sign or something, the officer would have backed off out of kindheartedness. Or at least out of reverential fear of all things vaginal. But she didn't, and so it was perfectly alright to arrest a pregnant woman in front of her child and electrocute her when she flailed around on the ground underneath a uniformed officer.

Police everywhere are under our scrutiny and paid by our tax dollars ostensibly to protect us from those who would harm us. If police officers are permitted to simply electrocute the bodies of women who are somehow 'asking for it' how can we ever expect them to seriously arrest and prosecute violent rapists? If a person can somehow ask to be electrocuted, they can most certainly ask to be raped. This is how blaming the victims ties all violence together.

When shocks can be inserted into your nervous system by way of small rips in your skin from metal clips shot from a gun, when you can be seen to have willingly requested such treatment through action, then a rape can most certainly be a request.

TASER International stocks have soared in the last year and this Christmas marks record sales. As more of us die by electrocution in streets and doorways I must admonish the profiteering of TASER International who use police and coroners as salesmen. May your bodies shake with heat and humiliation, may your begging for mercy be met with pointed fingers and merry laughter. May smoke float from your ears as static arcs across your eyeballs and flies off your lashes like airborne tears.

May police find you one day agitated. Your comfort is our silence.

further and further from reality

The following video depicts a pregnant woman undergoing electrocution by law enforcement:



So, in the delightful video, we see a pregnant woman being electrocuted by police. She is only arrested after the incident at which point she is agitated. In a spectacularly blithe fashion, the officer interviewed displays the traditional response of blaming the victim for the for the actions of aggressors. This is a constant worldwide usually in cases of rape and sexual assault. Dare I bother to mention that Thomas A. Smith Electric Rifles are not to be used on pregnant women? Is there any reason at all to comment on the judgment of a male police officer who calls a crying woman "agitated". She was trying to drop off her child that day and became upset when the conversation started up. In this case, a hanky would have sufficed as an introductory device.



Of course, she should have told them she was pregnant, she should have announced it, she shouldn't have gotten upset, she shouldn't have thrashed around in fright, she should have offered her other arm. Blaming the victim: the safest net available for law enforcers everywhere.