Meeting with Hon. Mauril Bélanger (MP for Ottawa-Vanier)

I met with Mr. Bélanger on Monday (June 18) for a little over a half hour. I have met and had conversations with Mr. Bélanger since more than a decade ago, so we were already familiar with each other and have a trust of our mutual interest for public policy in the public interest.

I brought a few handouts.

I gave my 4-relevant owners in digital copyright introduction, which he very quickly understood. We could then talk about the harm that comes from eradicating the most important needs of software authors (to have owners be able to make their own software choices, and thus to possibly choose our software) as well as the needs of hardware owners (to have owner override in order to make their own software choices to protect many other of their rights).

We discussed the futility of trying to use digital locks on content to stop copyright infringement. Having a CD player to waive around helps -- the encoded content, the decryption software and the decryption key must all be present in a persons home in order to access the content. A technically literate person will always be able to extract the key from the software/hardware in their possession and unlock content. Nothing short of violating the laws of physics can get around that basic truth.

We spoke a bit about the latest HD DVD and Blue Ray issues with their master keys being widely distributed because of a take-down notice. He wasn't surprised to learn that the new AACS key has already been leaked before any content encrypted in that key has been distributed.

We spoke about Movie infringement for a bit. He appeared (and I am not speaking for him, so don't take any of this as a quote!) to be as sceptical as many of us are of people wanting to watch camcorded movies, and thus whether there is much of a market for this. He seemed fully aware that high-quality copies of movies are most often sourced through leaks in the studio production process itself, meaning that employees and partners in the Motion Picture Industry are the problem, not people camcordering in theaters. Unfortunately it isn't easy for the motion picture industry to deal with their own internal problems, and will always prefer to try to blame some third party for their problems.

I joked that the major impact of C-59 will be to drive police out of doughnut and bagel shops and into movie theaters. A less than politically correct comment about a serious problem of redirecting police from far more important work, but I can't see how C-59 will have a positive impact on the problems the motion picture industry has.

We spoke about some of the statistics, with me explaining how the BSA comes up with their so-called "piracy statistics" which are largely based on their inflated estimate of demand for their software and their extreme low-balling of the growth in the use of perfectly legal Free/Libre and Open Source Software. I indicated that similar statistical problems exist in all the highly controversial numbers that come from the various industry associations.

Much of the conversation went well, and he mentioned that he now plans to get a briefing on the WIPO treaties. This isn't his primary policy area at the moment, but he does have a background in cultural policy and Heritage issues.

As an aid to other people, I wanted to talk about something to avoid that don't go well.

When speaking about the 4 owners, I spoke about the importance of each form of ownership in our economy. I spoke about how much innovation has been possible that is entirely outside of (and in some ways competitive to) the very narrow incumbent interests that the 1996 WIPO treaties are aimed at protecting.

I then made my mistake: I said that even if the worst case scenario of the major motion picture studios, recording labels and software manufacturing associations were true (IE: that if we didn't clamp down on the use of new technology by non-professionals that their industry would cease to exist), that legally protecting the private ownership and control of technology would still be a net benefit to the Canadian economy. I believe this to be true, that the legacy business models used by members of those industry associations (RIAA, MPAA, BSA) do not (and never will) represent a large enough component of our economy to protect them at the expense of much of the rest of the economy. It is not, however, a politically correct argument to make.

So, don't talk about the incumbents being replaced by innovators. While this is a common thing in the business world (Read about it in The Innovator's Dilemma, and the two follow-on books by Clayton M. Christensen), there seems to be an emotional attachment to the incumbent content industry that defies standard business and economic logic.

From past conversations with other politicians the same seems to be true of talking about the star system. While I prefer that more people make a living wage, than a tiny few make an outrageous amount of money while most in the field remain poor, politicians seem to like big success stories to point at rather than successful sectors.

We must figure out a way to talk about the relative benefit to the economy of private ownership and control of information technology compared to protecting the outdated business models of a tiny few (but currently large) content and software manufacturing companies. There must be a way to discuss these critical economic issues without bumping into political correctness problems.

Below is a follow-up letter that I sent after the meeting. I have already been called by his staff to say that given parliament will soon recess that we need to pick up in September the possibility of Mr. Bélanger helping to set up meetings with other members of parliament.

Dear Mr Bélanger,

I would like to thank you for meeting with me yesterday. I believe it is important that all MPs are aware of the fact that there are 4 owners to be concerned with when addressing digital copyright, not only one.

Would you be willing to help me get meeting with other Liberal MPs? As you can guess I have been sending messages to nearly all of the 308 MPs at various times over the last few years, but only a small subset have responded.

I have seen these issues discussed in many parliamentary committees by many members of parliament who have not yet been exposed to most aspects of the issue. We have seen this with the Public Safety committee which seemed to be claiming that unauthorized sharing of recorded music imperils public safety. Industry Committee had a report on manufacturing where it seemed to echo the suggestion that Canadian plastics manufacturers should be protected from plastic-free distribution of entertainment.

Yesterday we spoke a bit about the proposals from the Canadian Music Creators Coalition and their desire to embrace collective licensing rather than locking down content or suing their customers. They are part of a growing part of the content industry that has recognized that digital locks and lawsuits are harming sales.

I am including a link to a letter distributed by Bill St.Arnaud of CANARIE to his new list.
Which points to a Washington Post article article/2007/06/05/AR2007060501761.html

I find it interesting that copyright shows up in many different areas, and support for the proposal of moving to collective licensing for non-commercial distribution and mashups of multimedia content (music, movies, television) are growing. A large part of modernizing copyright for the digital age is to authorize and monetize user generated content and amateur mash-ups of multimedia culture.

When we discussed the fact that people younger than us know how to copy, my reply might have been misinterpreted. I wanted to say that people younger than us know how to use these technologies to be full participants in culture. I have seen some "amateur" videos made by high-school students that would have been thought of as professional quality only a decade ago. Some of the editing and special effects that can be accomplished by a skilled person on their home computer would have only been possible in the largest studios only a few decades ago.

This is creativity that should be protected, and not given up in order to appease the incumbent content industry who see private ownership and control of new communications technology as a threat to their established ways of doing business.

Thank you.

Russell McOrmond