Letters in December 3 Hill Times on Copyright

There were a few letters in reply to the articles in last week's Hill Times from Chris Brand and I and from Michael Geist.

I will include the full unedited version of my letter below, but wanted to comment on Chris' letter. His letter opens:

It really scares me that creators think that they "own the field of copyright." I thought we had freedom of expression in Canada.

When you are worried about freedom of expression, you are thinking as a creator. I believe he fell into a trap of equating 'creators' the way some of the existing associations/unions do, which is to think all 'creators' want strong/stronger copyright and are focused on royalty-based business models. Like our tagline that states that "All Canadian Citizens are 'Rights Holders'", we need to realize that not all creators perceive the same threats. Fighting for limits to copyright, and fighting for greater protection of freedom of expression, is fighting for creators' rights.

The primary reason I am involved in copyright is to fight to ensure that creators have full control over the tools necessary to record, edit and communicate/distribute their creativity. This is accomplished by ensuring that the owners of technology are in control, whether they are acting as creators or audiences. This benefits all technology owners, but I am primarily thinking of the interests of creators. It is while I am thinking as a creator that I am strongly opposed to ratification of the 1996 WIPO treaties.

Here is the unedited version of my letter, which is (as usual for me ;-) far longer than what was able to be published.

It was great to see Copyright discussed in 3 different sections of the November 26 Hill Times. Ms. Windsor of the Writers Union and Mr. Degen of PWAC are right that creators should be understood as central to the debate. The problem is, many of the business associations, unions and collectives that claim to represent us creators sometimes promote policies that are a greater threat to us than any amount of copyright infringement.

The group of 12 incumbent copyright industry lobbiests continued their false claim that Canada needs "stronger" copyright law, which Mr. Knopf refutes well. These 12 lobbiests are largely looking for copyright rules which favour their historical business models over innovative new methods of production, distribution and funding. It is not copyright infringement that they are fighting against, but legitimate competition.

They talk about the decade-old WIPO treaties which Canada did not commit to ratifying, given signing is to ratification like dating is to marriage. The 1996 WIPO treaties are based on flawed logic that harms the interests of most creators: that if new technology could be abused to infringe copyright, then private citizens should not be allowed to own and/or personally control these technologies. This would disallows creators to break free from the death-grip of the old industry associations, with this breaking free and exploring new methods of production, distribution and funding being the source of the greatest leaps in creativity and innovation of the last decade.

They claim the recent Industry Canada study has been authoritatively cast into doubt, which is not true. There has been rigorousness debate on music industry studies with the clear conclusion being that the industry-funded studies that allege massive harm from P2P have no merit. These lobbiests further quote the IDC study on computer software which has equally been refuted.

As an independent software author, I watch the IDC claims closely. Their study is well known for estimating the use of Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) by counting shipments of computers pre-installed with FLOSS. This leads to two problems:

a) A massive under-estimation of FLOSS usage, given most FLOSS software is customer installed and/or installed after the purchase of the hardware. While hardware vendors are increasingly pre-installing FLOSS such as Linux, this represents a tiny percentage of FLOSS usage.

b) A massive over-estimation of the amount of software copyright infringement. The IDC estimation of FLOSS usage needs to be subtracted from their estimate of copyright infringement, given their study methodology does not otherwise differentiate between the two.

Having the IDC study suggest a 10% drop in infringement could easily be accomplished by using more accurate methods to estimate FLOSS usage. Further, we could reduce actual copyright infringement greatly by encouraging software users to switching to FLOSS software given FLOSS licenses encourage software to be copied at the natural zero marginal cost, which means that private citizens no longer have an incentive to infringe software copyright. Authors and others in the software sector are paid up-front for their services, and do not need to monitor the private activities of their users, or sue them, in order to get paid.

Contrary to what the BSA says of their greatest competition, there are more jobs for software authors and software service people in a FLOSS marketplace -- fewer of them being unnecessary middle-men inflating costs, and more of them being technical people.

Russell McOrmond
Ottawa, Ont.

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Fair enough

You're right that that second sentence didn't really follow from the first. I was little over-zealous in my own editing :-) I originally went via an "ownership of words" idea.

My aim with that letter was to point out that stronger copyright means weaker tangible property rights and weaker freedom of expression, and thus shouldn't be blindly supported.

Incidentally, The Hill Times seems to be very keen to print letters to the editor. I think every single letter I've sent them has been published. I have a much lower success rate with other newspapers (although The Ottawa Citizen did call me yesterday and said that my letter is being considered).