Charlie Angus at the University of Ottawa

I was privileged to be invited by the University of Ottawa Technology Law program to the most recent Torys Speaker Series talk by Member of Parliament Charlie Angus. Mr. Angus is an independent musician and the Heritage critic for the NDP.

As anticipated, the talk was inspiring, and I only managed to write a few things down for notes. I noticed that a recording was made by the TechLaw folks, and this might be added to one of their Audio Blogs in the future.

I made a few notes while Mr. Angus was speaking.

While Mr. Angus mentioned a few times that MPs are generalists given the many issues they have to deal with, I feel he is someone with the real-life experience that allows him to understand many of the dilemmas facing creators. Unlike the incumbent industry associations he sees the Internet as a positive influence, not a threat.

He spoke about how he is involved in these issues in three different capacities: as a musician, as a journalist, and as an activist.

As a musician he saw the problems with the "bad old days" of analog distribution where various intermediaries took huge chunks of the proceeds from music and left musicians with debt. The Internet allows musicians to skip some of these intermediaries, bringing in more of the wealth to the actual artists.

As a journalist he spoke about how he has lived through the changes from old typewriters with a correction ribbon to the online world.

As an activist he recognizes the democratization of many aspects of our lives that has been made possible by new media such as the Internet.

He was surprised by the type of conversations that were happening when he joined parliament in 2004 where most parliamentarians were talking about the Internet as a threat. Many parliamentarians were asking "why not" for WIPO ratification, agreeing with various special interest lobbiests that Canada was some sort of haven for "piracy".

Mr. Angus spoke about how the dialogue that is now happening with music were not possible even 2 years ago. The Canadian Music Creators Coalition, and the changes at CRIA with the Canadian labels leaving, changes the dynamic considerably. He documented how the argument from CRIA/RIAA is flawed on filesharing, with bands such as the Arctic Monkeys, OK-Go and Broken Social Scene only being possible because of the dis-intermediation of new media.

On Legislation he doesn't believe that the government should just sit by the sidelines, and that there has to be legislation on issues such as remuneration. He suggests that rather than opposing technology, that new technology should be embraced as a platform for Canadian culture. He spoke about the report titled "A Charter for the Cultural Citizen Online" (commissioned by Heritage Canada, with the commission chaired by the Honourable Laurier L. LaPierre, O.C.) and the enabling direction it suggested of considering people citizens rather than consumers.

There was a question and answer session that followed his main talk. I only wrote notes for a few of the questions.

Q: Should the CBC be reformed to fulfil LaPierre mandate?

A: CBC is already trying to do many things, but is limited by budgets. Mr. Angus already watches Mercer online rather than via television.

Q: Can money from the CTF (Canadian Television Fund) be directed to new media?

A: May not be best mechanism

Q: Mr. Angus has a background in biotech, and a question was asked about the interconnections.

A: The debates sounded to him very similar: About "Intellectual Property Rights vs. the Commons". The perspectives of those in the debates were incompatible.

Q: How can middle ground be built?

A: Mr. Angus spoke about how the past Bulte report focused on "Fear" and didn't see any possible benefits from new technology.

Q: What can the public do?

A: Currently it is primarily lobbiests. Citizens have a roll, and should be exerting public pressure on MPs. The education community was able to get many letters to MPs about the "educational use of the Internet" levy issue.

Q: What is the impact of petitions (I asked this)

A: They give a chance for MPs to stand up and speak on the issue.

Q: A question on the National Film Board, and how legislation focuses on legacy technology (funds for "film stock", but not for equivalent digital resources. Access to legacy editing equipment, but not funding for possibly cheaper modern software)

A: Mr Angus was surprised these outdated technologies were still referenced/mandated. (Maybe he will be looking into this if he is written letters?)

Note: I spoke to Mr. Angus after about tabling signatures to our Petition to protect IT property rights. I will be bringing signatures to his office soon, and have a meeting set up with him for later in the month to discuss the petition.