My impressions of the DyscultureD Canadian audio blog

I am a big fan of audio blogs. Some people call them Podcasts because Apple iPod users seem to claim responsibility for making them popular. Leo Laporte over at TWIT.tv, a large audio/video blogging network with a long history in broadcasting, tried to convince people to call them Netcasts as they were simply broadcasting over the Internet. While I'm a listener to a few TWIT.tv shows, and a few other non-Canadian shows, I have always been looking for Canadian shows that cover some of the technology and political stories from the uniquely Canadian perspective.

I have been a listener to Jesse Brown's Search Engine, first on CBC and now on TVO, as well as Nora Young's Spark and Kathleen Petty's The House on CBC.

This week I was invited onto DyscultureD to speak about Copyright. In order to get a flavour for the show I listened to a few past episodes, and I think from this I will now become a regular listener. The show has a flavour similar to This Week In Tech's TWIT show, only without the constant worry about what rating they will get on iTunes. There will be the occasional use of the F word, and the statement that various politicians are an ass, which some will considered Not Safe For Work (NSFW) or for young children. While the show is about Canadian culture in general, the episodes I listened to (and the one I participated in) had segments on technology and Canadian politics. This is the type of thing I was looking for, after the demise of The Parliament Hillbillies in Ottawa which I thought had promise. One odd debate on climate change, and climate really changed for that show.

To give you a flavour, I'm going to offer my comments on Episode 86 – Get Off My WiFi, Bitch!. You will see that there are interesting issues being discussed. You will also see that I have far too much to say about some of these issues, and am glad for blogs to do this. This is fairly long, and is mostly a rant about the topics brought up in that episode of the show.

Liberals + NDP = who cares.

I certainly care. I watched the Progressive Conservatives and the Reform party merge to create the Conservative party, and Canada is far the lesser for it. I don't mean that I think it is bad that the Conservatives formed two consecutive minority governments, but that the larger the tent with the big tent party, the less representative those parties will be of the wide diversity of views that Canadians have.

I believe that the current Liberal party and the historical Progressive Conservative party had more in common than the Liberals and NDP. This suggestion that there is a "Republican" right and a "Democrat" left in Canada is really dangerous to Canadian politics. While I am a fan of coalitions, formal or informal, I wish all the merger talks would cease and that we could eventually re-gain some of what we lost in the last merger.

When the federal PC party merged with the Canadian Alliance renaming of the Reform party, the past supporters of the PC party went 5 different ways. Some went to the new Conservative party, some with the Liberal party, some with the Greens, a small number formed the Progressive Canadian Party, and some left politics all together. Some Canadians may be surprised to hear about the Greens, but if you look at the 2000 platforms of the Greens and PC party you will see they largely overlapped. It was by bringing in experienced people from the historical PC party that the Green party has been able to obtain the visibility it has today. I think over the last few years some of the PC folks who joined the Liberals or created the PC party have joined those who left politics entirely, and I believe Canada has been the lesser for this.

So, what is my solution to the Minority Government issue? I really believe that the animosity we see is rooted in our electoral system. We have otherwise like minded politicians that are forced to emphasize the comparatively small ways they are different in order to win under First Past the Post. There are many alternatives to choose from, and my major criteria is that they get rid of the concept of vote splitting. If you want to focus on the current riding structure, then an Instant Runoff system is great. If you want to focus on party politics, then Proportional Representation is OK. Nearly all the proposals that have been made in Canada or the provinces have been somewhere in between, where the Canadian mixture of riding and party is respected.

I have met with politicians from all political stripes in the current federal parliament. With a few exceptions, I found these to be hard working people that had the best interest of the country and their constituent at heart -- regardless of what party they were from. It was my impression that federal politicians had far more in common with each other than differences, and if we could just move past the horse-and-buggy era First Past The Post electoral system we could make their jobs far more productive.

The World Cup… OF CRIME!!1!

Yes, sensationalism sells with commercial media. I also find that too many North Americans don't get out to see the rest of the world often enough. I've travelled around India, and even with the oddball media reports I felt safer than when I've travelled through the United States.

I'm glad they weren't actually talking about sports, as I have no clue. The only professional sport I watch is politics, and the only amateur sport I watch is when the children of friends are playing. When it comes to the sports part of part of Canadian culture, I have no clue or interest.

Heck, I had to Google Justin Bieber after listening to other commentary on the show, as I had no clue who this person was either. And the movies and television shows discussed? I'm a big science fiction fan who is re-watching all the episodes of Dr. Who since they restarted in 2005, but most of the TV shows they talk about on the show I have never heard of.

I love it when I find out a show has some connection to Canada, such as BSG, Defying Gravity and Caprica coming out of Vancouver. But I don't watch non-news television shows based on whether they are Canadian. I watch based on whether I like them, and I certainly don't think Canadians pays for more "shit" than anyone else does. Then again, we do have a problem with our cable monopolies and satellite duopolies.

But that part of culture was not in this episode....

Journalist swims in oil slick, doesn’t care for it.

Not sure if this was a different story, or just more useless things that some journalists will say and do to get people to read/look/listen.

Get off my WiFi, bitch!

I don't watch Apple events. It's not because I'm not interested, as I am interested in what my commercial competitors and political opponents are doing. I watch the CPAC televised party conventions of as many of the political parties as I can as well.

I just know that Apple events will be over-reported on all the technology media I listen to. I sometimes fast-forward some of the TWIT shows past the 3'rd repeat of the same Apple announcement.

As to the new iPhone, I agree with Andrew's take which is that there is nothing new other than the "Cool, it's from Apple" factor. I've handled a few iPhone/iTouch devices, and I own a Google Nexus One. When I hear people talk about how much easier the Apple devices are than Android, I think it's the Windows vs. Mac vs. Linux debate all over again -- yawn.

My wife isn't a techie, but a highschool Science (primarily Biology) teacher. She uses Linux at home (Ubuntu now, Fedora in the past), and at various points Microsoft Windows and Apple Macintosh at work. I asked her as a person who just uses these things as a tool her impressions, and she said: who cares. She says they all are about the same with a few menu items in different places. She really doesn't understand why some people think one is easier/better/etc than the others.

My personal decision making process is different. In the early 1990's I decided to commercially support FLOSS as my business, so I have an economic vested interest in more people using the type of software I offer commercial support for. I consider Apple, Adobe, Microsoft, an most other members of the so-called Business Software Alliance to be competitors, not partners in my business.

In the early 2000's I read a book called Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace by Lawrence Lessig. In this he suggested that software code and legal code both regulate our lives, and that we should be scrutinizing software code in ways similar to how we scrutinize legal code.

If you extend this analogy forward, software vendors are comparable to political parties. Some are open and accountable, where they publish all the policies (software source code) and allow other informed citizens to be actively involved in the policy making process. Some parties are highly unaccountable and non-transparent, consider their policies to be proprietary secrets, and disallow any meaningful citizen engagement. I believe people understand far more about the dynamics in software than they realize, and they would quickly understand some of the critical disagreements simply by using a political science lens.

In this context I don't fault people for voting for software vendors I happen to disagree with, just like I don't fault people for voting for political parties I disagree with. I do fault people for not realizing they are voting, and think they are just purchasing a product.

I also fault people who lobby for changes in the legal code (laws, etc) which reduce the ability of citizens to make their own person choices for software code. This is why I am so strongly opposed to legal protection for technical measures in copyright, and software patents, both of which radically reduce software choice and largely exclude the most transparent and accountable options.

Telling me that I have to purchase one of my competitors products in order to access copyrighted works is offensive to me on two fronts. It is offensive that I have to subsidize my competitors. More important, it is like telling a conservative that they have the freedom to vote for whoever they want, as long as the candidate was nominated by the Communist Party.

But enough on that...

Anthony asks, is Ottawa smart enough not to fuck up our airwaves with foreign ownership? I think it doesn’t matter, because winner takes all.

I think we are looking at the telecommunication ownership issue all wrong. In my mind we should not be regulating the structure of the vendors, but only the activities they are carrying out. I don't think we should care who owns a company, only that while they are doing business in Canada that they follow all the rules and regulations in Canada.

I consider deregulation to be the issue, not foreign or domestic ownership. If I'm being screwed by a vendor that I was forced to go to because there were no better competitors, I could care less about the nationality of any of the owners.

I too was a Fido customer back when they were independent. The plan I purchased was an all inclusive with low rates in the major cities that they had their own equipment in (Like Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto where I spend most of my time), and then roaming in other places. I was quite unhappy when Fido was purchased by Rogers. My original FIDO plan is similar to the improved plan I now have with WIND mobile where I get unlimited Canada-wide calling/etc while in the HOME zone in the major cities I spend my time in, and roaming otherwise. For about the same price as my old Fido plan I have unlimited minutes, unlimited texting, and all of Canada is a local call when I'm in a home zone.

We really need to separate telecommunication policy into the free market and government programs. Rural electrification was a government plan, and I believe rural telecommunications needs to be handled that way as well. Rather than mucking up telecommunications policy for the entire country, we need to recognize that free market forces will work well in the large population centers, and that separate government programs need to exist in the smaller population centers.

I feel the same way about broadcast policy. When I had my intervention in front of the CRTC on December 9, I asked, "We need to ask if the broadcasting and telecommunications sectors are two massive government programs, or if they are services that can exist in a minimally regulated marketplace."

Commissioner Timothy Denton replied, "Yes, I would say that most of the groups appearing before us would think it a form of government program, would they not?" (Transcript)

In my intervention I suggested one specific structural separation around landline communications.

"The CRTC has indicated that it wants to rely on market forces, but unfortunately these forces can never exist if the CRTC relies on inter-modal competition: Cable and satellite for television, cable and DSL for Internet access.
We have experience with the type of transition we need to make in order to receive the full benefits of convergence. We have something to learn from the previous Progressive Conservative government of Ontario. The Energy Competition Act of 1998 aimed at establishing a deregulated market for the supply of electricity, continuing the deregulation of the natural gas supply market. This was partly accomplished by recognizing that energy distribution was a natural monopoly, and that expecting each potential competitor to put their own pipes into our homes and offices would be impractical. The sector was split into supply that would be a fully competitive private sector marketplace, and distribution which would operate under a highly regulated utility model.
We must do the same thing for our communications infrastructure, separating a highly regulated utility model for municipal distribution from minimally regulated services that are then built on top. This will allow a free market to build services that actually meet the needs of consumers. This will allow local programming to become more local, lowering existing barriers to distribution of neighborhood programming."

This goes along the lines of what was said in the episode, where the suggestion was that the telecommunications providers were a "dumb pipe". I believe we should structurally separate those "dumb pipe" services from any value-add, allowing there to be a free market for the value-add that is not in any way tied to the "dumb pipe". While my intervention focused on wired communications, I believe the same should be true of wireless.

Will "Ottawa" or "the government" that got things wrong on TPM/Copyright policy do the right thing on telecommunications? Any time I hear the phrase "the government", I ignore it. There is no such thing as "the government", which is hundreds of politicians directing hundreds of thousand of bureaucrats in various departments that are often pushing and pulling in different directions at the same time. From my own experience there is as much diversity in "the government" as there is in Canada, no matter what political party happens to be the governing party at any given time.

The CRTC, telecommunications and broadcasting policy is managed by the same two departments/Ministers as copyright: Industry and Heritage. The division is very similar: Industry will be more pro-competition, and supportive of a wider range of players in the economy, and Heritage will focus more on the interests of traditional distribution methods such as the broadcasters. Like with copyright it is not "creators vs audiences", but established media (incumbents) vs market forces (competitors).

On Copyright it was Heritage vs. Industry Ministers, and the Prime Minister broke the tie by siding with the US presidency. If someone wants to blame "the government" for the current problems in Canadian copyright, should they blame the Conservative party of Canada or the Democratic party in the USA who were the authors of the DMCA? It was the USA that introduced the concept of "access" and "access controls" to Copyright law, an idea that was rejected by WIPO. If Canada adopts this extremist policy I doubt it will have been because people thought it was a good idea, but because some Canadian politicians want to appease the US presidencies of Clinton/Gore and now Obama/Biden.

The conversation between Canada and the USA on telecommunications and broadcasting is very different. We can then talk about CanCon rules, and limits on foreign ownership and competition. In this case the US is encouraging Canada to open things up, rather than in Copyright where they are encouraging us to lock things down. Same government south of the boarder, with very different (and in some ways incompatible) policy proposals depending on which policies we are talking about.

Mike makes the case for printed books — and has a BookCrossing.com account, just like me — who knew?!

I had to laugh. The last time I heard about a system similar to BookCrossing.com was at a CopyCamp, where some of the more extremists in the Copyright debate were claiming that such sites should be illegal. These were authors that were suggesting that this unauthorized offline sharing system was simply a way to circumvent compensation systems like the Public Lending Right. This is a system that compensates authors based on their popularity in libraries, with the money coming out of general federal tax revenue, via the Department of Canadian Heritage.

In 2001 when I first joined the Copyright debate I thought authors were being fair and reasonable, but didn't understand some of the changes in technology and the related changes in economics, and how these can benefit them. After attending a few conferences I came to believe that while the majority of fellow creators reasonably wanted to get paid, some were extremists that wanted everything that didn't conform to their narrow ideas to be shut down.

Some thought libraries were OK to exist as long as they got paid for that sharing, but thought uncompensated sharing outside of libraries should be illegal. Some promoted Collective Societies as the "one true way" to get compensated for creativity, and believed that no creator should be able to choose their own business models. One union wanted to make it illegal for people to waive their moral rights, even though the ability to waive moral rights is critical for large collaborative projects. I could go on, and even name some names of people I have met in person and debated online that I consider extremists, but you get the idea.

While I agree with Mr. Moore that there are some "extremists" and "absolutists" that don't believe in any copyright reform, my experience has been that it isn't people (sometimes falsely like Geist) suggested to be user advocates. It is people working for the major labels in the recording industry, major studios, game console and some other hardware manufacturers, and the larger collective societies who have expressed the most extreme views.

I wish I did know about some "abolish copyright" extremists to balance out the extremism I have heard from some of the incumbent content industry associations and unions. While I see some anonymous comments on blogs that claim to represent the "abolish copyright" view, I haven't really seen any actual named citizens or activist groups putting forward this view. Even if I read the goals from the Pirate Party of Canada I see some things I disagree with as an independent creator, but nothing I would consider remotely as extreme as the constitutionally questionable addition of "access" and "access controls" to Copyright that we already see in Bill C-32.