Meeting with John Degen, ED for Professional Writers Association of Canada

On Friday afternoon I met with John Degen, Executive Director of the Professional Writers Association of Canada for a very eye-opening meeting. (See also: Anti-copyright: a rebel sell?, and The two branches of the creators' rights movement)

The past submissions to government from PWAC and my own would suggest very different ideas on copyright. We rely on different business models to fund our creativity, and have identified different threats to our creative rights, but have much more that we share than we disagree on.

He has offered to post a more detailed summary of our meeting.

There are some overall principles that we'd like to indicate that we share, and hopefully we can then get buy-in to these shared principles from other members of our respective communities. While John will have better details from his notes, I wanted to post a two that I remember off the top of my head.

  • Respect for other authors. We can't come together if we are making proposals that suggest that in order to protect the rights of one creator that the rights of some other creator must be taken away.
  • Protect the choices of authors. There is a full spectrum of methods of production, distribution and funding of creativity. Creators should be able to explore these different options for themselves, and not have methods imposed on them. If an author wants to collect royalties per copy, that choice must be respected. If an author wants an up-front lump sum and then have the work freely shareable after (such as my own 95% solution), then that choice must also be respected. Whether an author uses traditional methods of production and distribution, or peer production (open collaborative methods for the production of public goods) and peer distribution (P2P networks), these choices should be respected.

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No Need to Rely on Hypothetical Arguments Either

There is proof that the CC license as a model can reap rewards given that Revision3 uses this and is now a company worth well over 2.7 million US dollars. There is also Star Wreck which is a movie that uses the same model. Plus, you can't forget Cory Doctorow's and Michael Geists books doing the exact same thing, but for books. Just some thoughts that might be considered should John try to say that Copyright should be respected and all other models be rejected (which came off to me as something Copyright stakeholders always wanted especially ever since the RIAA submitted filings to make it that back-ups are not fair use even if you legally bought the material - even though this is in the States, there's always the threat of stakeholders wishing to emulate this)


(Dumb me -- I made a set of CDs for John, but with all the interesting conversations forgot to give them to him.)

When I offer those two points, these are two points of agreement that John came up with, not me. They are ideas that I obviously agree with, but it needs to be acknowledged that it was John who pushed to have this meeting, pushed to a set of shared principles, and to open himself as the ED of PWAC to healthy dialog with other parts of the creative community.

Part of respecting other creators is recognizing that we are not all the same, and that includes not lumping together groups who might have seemed to "identify" with some of the copyright maximalist ideas ("If some copyright is good for me, more must be better").

I'm part of the software sector, but am clearly not aligned with CAAST members. I also do hosting and run an ISP, but am not aligned with Rogers/Bell/etc. I am quite offended when I get lumped in with these other organizations simply because I'm part of the same sector. The Professional Writers may be dependant on copyright for their living (just as I am), but that doesn't make them anything remotely like CRIA.

PWAC members have a very legitimate and very human fear of change. Freelance and other independent authors are already fighting battles with overly-concentrated media companies, and the changes that the Internet brings to their profession causes even more anxiety.

(Some old letters: PWAC Condemns New CanWest Global Contract, Writers outraged by new CanWest free-lancers' contract. Poorly written when I look back, as they took an angry tone that wasn't likely helpful)

I believe that some of the anxiety is amplified by the (IMNSHO incorrect) belief that the future of the writers are tied to the future of their publishers, with new media causing considerable competition in publishing options. These new options can benefit writers, but does represent quite a radical change from the way they have made money thus far. This should be understood and respected, and we should do everything we can to make these changes easier to understand and hopefully benefit from.

Not all creativity can use the same business model. The suggestion that Peer Production or Peer Distribution based creativity (Creative Commons, FLOSS, etc) works for every type of creativity is just as much nonsense as the suggestion that collecting royalties for every possible use is appropriate for every type of creativity. The reality is that the business models for various types of novelists are not the same, and the business models for novelists are not the same as for music, movies or software. Even entertainment software and office productivity have very little in common when it comes to the most viable methods of production, distribution and funding of that creativity.

There is another major difference between PWAC and CRIA: PWAC represents writers who are increasingly wanting to explore the full spectrum of methods of production, distribution and funding. This is an organization that is already moving forward with the times, even if as a group they may not seem to be moving as quickly as an individual can.

CRIA members, on the other hand, largely represent an outgoing method of production, distribution and funding for recorded music. I really believe that CRIA is to the future of music like the 8-track was to the CD. I believe that there will be a viable music marketplace in the future, and music authors and performers will be better off on the whole than they are today, but that these positive things will come as the result of the movement away from the current models used by the major label recording industry.

While I can't imagine a future without PWAC members making a living at their craft (and if things go my way, under far better terms with a competitive distribution system), I equally can't imagine a future that has a place for the incumbent major labels.

Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) consultant.


I am quite offended when I get lumped in with these other organizations simply because I'm part of the same sector.

Well, what I meant by my posting is that alternative models to that of the CRIA can work. It's almost more appropriate to post it in a later article where you mention that the industry is saying that CC Licensed works means that the creators work for free which I have already shown to be completely untrue as there are CC Licensed material that has earned up to millions of dollars in revenue. Just an alternative idea that works, I did not mean to say that you are just a CC peddler or anything.

"The Industry"

I didn't think you were suggesting I'm a CC peddler. It wasn't you that I was thinking of, but what has been said to me by some of the current members of current generation creators' rights organizations.

I also want to hilight for any readers that you are talking about alternatives from CRIA, and not alternatives for CRIA. There really isn't much future for CRIA, and the longer-term music industry (authors and performers) needs to realize this fact and protect its interests from CRIA.

I'm not trying to be annoying, but which "the Industry" do you mean in your letter?

Unless someone lumps everyone who collects royalties on copyright as one industry, there isn't a "the Industry" that includes both creators like PWAC members (professional writers) and non-creator copyright holders like CRIA members (record labels). Beyond the collection of "monopoly rents" (what the economists call royalty collection - it isn't a derogatory term), these types of groups have nothing else in common.

If submissions to the government from creator groups look similar to those of non-creator copyright holding intermediaries, I believe this is a mistake from the past that we should be helping the creator groups to correct. Their interests are not aligned, even if there has been misconceptions to believe otherwise.

I believe it is important for us to make this distinction. There isn't just two "sides" to this issue, and the interests of creators and non-creator copyright holders are not the same (or even compatable most of the time).

The more any of us suggest that there is only two sides, the more likely the industry associations representing outgoing methods of production, distribution and funding (CRIA and CAAST are currently within the transformation, and eventually CMPDA will be as well) will be able to convince the older creator groups (Creators' Rights Alliance members like PWAC) to side with them. This will greatly harm the interests of all those creators, as well as the general public.

While PWAC members and other creators can greatly benefit from a full spectrum of business models -- including those you suggest -- CRIA and many incumbent non-creator copyright holders can not.

CRIA's "value add" (and I use that term loosely) is to act as a big bank to fund recording and distribution. They seek to control the major channels of advertising and distribution (radio, retail sales, etc), and promote their "superstars" to audiences.

In a fully competitive environment with a full spectrum of methods of production, distribution and funding you find a few interesting changes. Music authors (sheet music, known as "graphic music" in the copyright act) are able to explore a wider variety of publishing options, skipping some of the traditional music publishers. Performers are also going to explore options, with new technology taking away most of the large expenses that previously existed for high quality recordings. Using P2P and other non-commercial distribution as advertising, this also takes away most of the advertising expenses -- rather than a big label taking a cut of revenues you have the potential loss of someone who enjoys the music but never purchases anything from the musicians. Authors and performers rights are better protected in this new environment as many of the "incentives" for them to hand over their copyright to someone else are reduced. Hopefully eventually the Government will get out of the way, and no longer tie funding (such as through FACTOR) to musicians or labels where the labels own the copyright.

Note: There are some bureaucracies that music authors and performers are stuck with for a while, such as a few collectives. This is because the copyright act revokes copyright in a number of cases, only offering a "right of remuneration" (IE: a royalty fee from a collective society). Examples: Article 17: performances included in movies, Article 19: performers and sound recording makers for communications to and performances in public. Most authors seem to license their public performance rights through collectives, given these collectives are already collecting for the performers of these same public performances (IE: when you play a CD in a bar or play a song on the radio, this is both a performance of the music as well as the performance of the performer, all of which can be licensed at the same time through SOCAN)

There needs to be some reform of these collectives, given they have become lobbiests for sometimes very narrow political views, and yet the creators are given little choice but to become members. Since these collectives are effectively forced on creators, there is a need to ensure their accountability and transparency to those members, including ensuring that a full spectrum of views of the membership are brought to policy makers.

Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) consultant.

DRM Free Video-Game Top Seller

Recently rolled through Slyck which I thought you would be interested in hearing about. Galactic Civilizations II ends up being the best selling game (Despite being totally unprotected). Methinks there's gold coming out lately.

Your 95% solution?

Russell, could you explain what you mean by "95% solution"? If you've written about it before, could you link to that posting?

The 95% solution..

I've included it elsewhere, but the idea is simple: 95% of what a customer wants is available in publicly licensed (derivatives allowed, FLOSS style) material. I would be hired and paid a lump-sum amount to fill in the missing 5%, and the resulting 100% would then be available in the public pool of knowledge for the next customer.