Sunday, September 13, 2009

Canadian Copyright Reform

I wish I had gotten around to this sooner, but alas! There are only a few hours left to have your voices heard in the Government of Canada Copyright Consultation. The hard-working people over at Fair Copyright for Canada have made submitting a response as easy as signing a form letter, so there's still time to add your name to the long (but perhaps not long enough) list of people dissatisfied with the way copyright reform in this country is headed. If you haven't done so already, hop on over to Fair Copyright's "Copyright Consultation Made Easy" page, follow their advice, and send off an email asap. They've also provided a form letter to petition elected representatives to take up the cause - which you can personalize or simply sign and send through an online form...they'll print off a hard copy and send it along to the appropriate offices this week.

There's lots of info on the Fair Copyright website explaining why this is important, including placing much needed limits on corporate-centric (and US-driven) copyright laws, protecting consumer rights and artists' rights, fostering research, innovation, creativity and education, maintaining individual control over our technologies, etc., as well as a ton of background info. You can also find out more about the consultation, analysis of the submissions and proposals at www.speakoutoncopyright.ca. Here's a really brief excerpt from the Fair Copyright site:
Last year, Canadians across the country rose up in protest when our government proposed to change copyright in ways that many found harmful and unfair. Due to mounting opposition, the proposed law (Bill C-61) was delayed and ultimately dropped. The government promises to once again introduce a new copyright law. This time we
can help them get it right. From now until September 13th, 2009, the Government of Canada will be holding a consultation on copyright. In just minutes, you can tell the government what matters most to you.

Having waited 'till the last minute myself on this, I can attest to how easy it really is to write up a quick submission. Here's a copy of the email I sent in to info@copyrightconsultation.gc.ca earlier today:
I am writing in response to the solicitation for feedback on the Government of Canada Copyright Consultations. I am a PhD candidate in communication, which involves a significant amount of media research and analysis. The quality of my research, as well as that of my teaching, relies on copyright laws that allow for fair dealing, particularly as it applies to educational purposes. Canada is already far behind other developed nations when it comes to fair dealing allowances. For instance, although Canadian academics are currently allowed exemptions to copyright for study and analysis, we do not have the same exemptions for classroom use as found in the US and in various EU countries. As a university instructor, copyright restricts the materials and analysis that I can show in class, which greatly impedes my ability to deliver to the students a thorough education in media criticism and analysis. This is particularly the case with newer copyrighted materials. As libraries everywhere struggle with diminishing budgets and rising copyright/licensing costs, their ability to secure the rights to new films, games and other media materials in a comprehensive and timely manner has been enormously reduced. My hope is that the new copyright law will include a more comprehensive and flexible articulation of fair dealing for academic and educational purposes. More flexible fair dealing could enhance education, while enabling better research on key and emerging aspects of our highly (and ever increasingly) mediated society.

Conversely, if fair dealing exemptions are not adequately protected under the new law, I worry about the detrimental impact this would have not only on academics, but also on artists, students, and everyday users of digital technologies and media. It is hugely important that we, as citizens, have access to the core components of our shared culture. This access should not merely include the right to purchase or consume the media, but the right to engage with it as well. Engagement is not passive -- it includes criticism, discussion, appropriation, and re-contextualization. We do this as part of our struggle to make meaning out of a complex, and often contradictory, global mass culture. Occasionally, engagement can lead to creative transformations, which provide invaluable stepping stones between the past and the present, the center and the periphery, the traditional and the new. While it is of course extremely important that artists and producers maintain some control over their creations, this control needs to be balanced with the audience's own right to participate in the shaping of their cultural experience. Copyright exemptions such as fair dealing for criticism, parody and transformative creativity are crucial if we are to ensure continued access to these rights. Given that copyright itself has extended so rapidly in the past few decades, a similar expansion of consumer or user rights would be most in keeping with our democratic ideal of a nation with plural but also shared cultural experiences...Not the elimination of these rights.

I'm well aware that it's far from perfect. And that a longer, more detailed (and thorough!) submission would have been great. But nonetheless, given the huge outcry last year and the momentum that the movement has gained over the past few months, I think that enough fingers pointing in the right direction just might end up being enough to send GovCan down a better path than it's barreled down so far.

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