The battles between organizations promoting methods of exploiting works of the mind.

This morning I am reading an article in Canadian New Media about the most recent battles at the Copyright Board of Canada. As has become typical, the debate is between different parts of the music industry as well as between different methods of distribution and remuneration for music. While from the outside they like to paint a picture of all being on the same team against "infringers", the reality seems to be that the music retailers, publishers, collectives for publishers, labels and mechanical collectives seem to reserve some of their harshest attacks for each other. Much of the discussion at the Collective Society dominated hearings at the Copyright Board seems to be of the "one true business model", where I can't see the interests of musicians and music fans being represented at all.

At CopyCamp, Virginia H.L. Jones, a lawyer with Access Copyright, is hosting a session on collective societies. In her writeup for the session she starts by suggesting that, "Collective licensing has gotten a bad rap recently, dismissed as an anachronism in an increasingly technology-dominated world".

As someone who has been critical of some of the activities of Collective Societies in general, with additional critiques of Access Copyright specifically, I would like to offer my thoughts. My critiques of Access Copyright come under 3 titles: Extended/Statutory licensing, Lobbying, and Captain Copyright.

Extended/Statutory Licensing

In Virginia's write-up she says that, "embracing one new business model (or two or three or four) doesn’t mean abandoning another. Creators have the right to earn a living from their work and the right to choose the business model that works for them". I strongly agree, but where we disagree is whether collective societies have been helping or hurting this cause.

When collective societies act as repertoire societies, meaning that creators and the customers of collectives choose to sign up to work with the collective, everything works well. Collective Societies, when operating this way, are a valid and important choice for both the creator and customers.

As soon as the government steps in and imposes an Extended/Statutory license where a collective is able to collect on behalf of authors who have not chosen to join, then the collective ends up working against the interests of authors who need to have "the right to choose the business model that works for them".

The same can be said when Collectives are insured against copyright holders suing the collective for their unauthorized "licensing" of works. The government should not be giving Collectives indemnification for their for-profit infringement of copyright any more than they would any other commercial body that financially benefits from infringement.

When collectives are imposed on a type of work, creators are given a choice of joining the collective society to possibly get royalty cheques collected under a business model administrated by the collective, or they get no money at all. All other business models not administrated by the collectives are no longer economically possible.


Collective societies are administrators of a subset of business models. Creators who join a collective are simply saying that they wish to make use of this administrative body. They are not members in the same way that someone would be a member of a political party or a lobby group. Some creators use Collective Societies to help them with their businesses, and others might use retailers like Walmart or Chapters. Collective societies should not be lobbying the government falsely claiming to be representing the policy interests of their "members", and governments must recognize that collectives no more represent the policy interests of creators than other intermediaries like retailers or librarians do.

Captain Copyright

Some creators have suggested that Captain Copyright is no different than Elmer the Safety Elephant. If this were true, then CopyCamp would not exist. The reality is that Copyright is an extremely complex and contentious issue, where specialists in the area do not agree (to put it mildly).

I have not been convinced that Copyright is yet a topic that can be adequately introduced to high-school age students effectively, and would need to be introduced in civics classes as something that is actively debated in society. Maybe if the Government of Canada could set better priorities and put "clarifying and simplifying the Act" as the top priority rather than the lowest priority, this could change in the future.

It should be obvious that an issue where experts cannot agree that it is a topic that should not be introduced to students before high-school. To even suggest that children in these younger grades can understand these issues is insulting to anyone who is involved in this area of policy, and there should have been no surprise that people were extremely offended by the Captain Copyright site.

The complexity of this issue was also made obvious by the fact that there were many factual errors on the website. While the average citizen (especially students) don't have the resources to fact check sites like this, Access Copyright employs a number of lawyers (including Virginia) who should have known. Any discussion of music seemed to ignore the fact that the Private Copying regime existed, with this being one of the most glaring errors. Given how obvious this error was, there were legitimate questions about whether this site was attempting to be an educational site of a propaganda site.