Censorship on the CBC

The CBC is taking the opportunity this week to do a massive focus on the issue of censorship around the world. No less then 17 of CBC Radio's regular programs are making one or more significant contributions to the project. I looked through the entire line up which certainly looks extensive. It includes issues of censorship in music, film, journalism and more from all around the world. It is extensive, but it also has one glaring hole which unfortunately, I was not at all surprised to see. That is, the issue of copyright as a form of censorship, and as can be seen from the CBC's line up, it is an issue that often flies below the radar of most people and the mainstream media.

Copyright as censorship is also distinctive from other forms of censorship in that it can be practiced by governments and corporations equally. And it is. Some cases in point:

The church of Scientology has accused many detractors of copyright infringement when they made serious accusations against the organization, in an effort to keep some of their more controversial documents out of the eyes of junior members and outsiders.

In the United Kingdom, the government threatened to sue a former Ambassador Craig Murray with copyright infringement if he released the public documents he used to base a book on, critical of the government. In the UK, like Canada, crown copyright exists on all government documents, and the government can use that copyright to control access to the documents.

In another recent Canadian case involving the "Michelin Man," Michelin sued the Canadian Auto Workers for a pamphlet they had distributed which depicted the famous marshmallow-like Bibendum figure about to stomp on the head of a much smaller worker. Michelin won on the charge of copyright infringement.

In yet another case, a fellow named Ric Silver claimed to own copyright of a particular dance step called the electric slide. Many videos on YouTube and other sites where issued with DMCA takedown notices when Mr. Silver discovered the content and decided he didn't like them.

Leaving aside the validity of being able to claim copyright on a dance step. To order videos removed when there is no financial risk to you simply because you don't like it, is undeniably censorship. Likewise the other examples above are also censorship, and there are many many more examples which could be brought forward.

Unfortunately as a society we do not see copyright as a tool to silence those we do not like. We only appear to see it as a protector if creations, and by extension the creators. Perhaps that is why there is such a large and perpetual global movement afoot to extend copyright.

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Copyright and Censorship.

This is a debate I have never understood. Copyright is a regulation on speech. Whether we agree with this regulation or not, I don't understand anyone who doesn't see it as a regulation on speech. As with any other regulations there can be "too much" that can cause more harm than good.

We have tried to raise this issue in the context of intermediary liability, which you touch upon with the DMCA's so-called "Notice and Take-down". Given there is no proof needed of the validity of the copyright claim, and no need to go to a court for a court order (as is the case in Canada), the US system is more appropriately called "Claim and Censor". In other words, without having a court be given a minimum of evidence of infringing activity, it is no indication that the material being "taken down" (by legally untrained technical people at an ISP) is a copyright infringement.

I am curious if you wrote to people at the CBC? It is possible that they simply don't understand the issue. I see this all the time, with people worried about the so-called "Great Firewall of China", not realizing that much of this censorship technology was created to try to stop de-minimus copyright infringement which the USSA considers to be so important.

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