Meeting with Justin Trudeau, MP for Papineau

I met with Justin Trudeau at his office at 625 Faillon Street in Montréal, Québec, from approximately 15:00 to 16:00 on Monday July 19'th. My wife attended as she was interested to meet Mr. Trudeau. The conversation was primarily about Copyright, and when it was nearing 16:00 it was Rina and not one of Mr. Trudeau's staffers that had to remind us that the office was closing when it seemed we might head off into other topics (Census, patenting of life, ....).

I dropped off a copy of Yochai Benkler's book, The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom, and hope that it will be the opening for future conversations.

As with other meeting summaries, I'm not planning on posting Mr. Trudeau's policy ideas but the general topics we discussed and my impression of the person. I will leave Mr. Trudeau to reveal his own policy statements as he sees fit, although I would happily publish anything he sent me for publication.

His office is a quick walk from the Jean-Talon Metro station. You can tell something about Mr. Trudeau when you near the office and realize he sits in a front office with a large window facing the street so that he can interact with constituents walking by. This is different from other meetings I have had where MP offices are in business parks or otherwise hidden from pedestrian traffic.

Our meeting is based on some public conversations on Twitter.

In relation to Minister Moore's comments, Justin wrote on June 25'th:

Wow. Apparently I might be a "radical extremist" because I have questions about a gvt bill. I thought that was called "doing my job." #C32

I wrote on July 9'th:

"@justinpjtrudeau Curious what the Liberal party stance will be on C-32. Any thoughts on my FAQ? Want to meet?"

He replied back with:

"@russellmcormond Thanks for . I'm the first to admit I'm no expert on ©, so your insightful contribution helps. #C32"

I sent him a letter via e-mail on July 13 referencing that tweet with a better introduction, suggesting we may wish to meet.

On July 18'th I sent:

@justinpjtrudeau I will be in Montreal for the next few days. Are you available for a short meeting on Copyright? #FixBillC32

After that last public tweet, he sent me a direct message with contact information. (Note: some of his past tweets didn't make it over when he switched to a verified account. There was previously more on Copyright in his feed).

Mr. Trudeau is an obvious youth advocate. When he asked me what I thought were next steps I suggested we need to push for C-60 style definitions of technological measures, and ensure that a better representation of those impacted by the legislation are heard by politicians in committee. He suggested that committee hearings should include some 15 year olds, given how much this legislation impacts them and yet they have never really been consulted by politicians.

While he suggested in his tweet that he is no expert on copyright, it is clear that he has an interest, has met with a few people over the issue, and has discussed the issue with fellow Liberal caucus members. He said he was a bit of a geek, and as I was leaving showed me a signed XKCD cartoon, something only certain communities would understand the significance of.

I started the conversation by suggesting that Copyright was like tax policy. It is complex policy that has many implications, and policy makers need to be mindful of many market impacts when changing this policy. While there will always be disagreements on what to tax and what the rate should be, it is widely understood across the political spectrum that no taxes or 100% taxes would be unworkable. I said that we are unfortunately not at this level of maturity with Copyright as there are people who believe that "if some copyright is good, more must be better", and who believe that perpetual copyright that regulates more and more activities would somehow be good for society. While there are few credible political groups pushing to abolish copyright, the folks who believe in copyright maximalism seem to have the ear of the government.

I said that like tax policy there is quite a bit of emotion in the copyright debate, but unfortunately only a few who sit down and think hard about the various implications to all constituencies of changes in the policy. We need the copyright debate to gain some maturity.

He indicated he read over my FAQ before we met, and we stuck largely to those more general themes. I mentioned a few times that I don't consider the current technology changes to be a crisis situation, as some special interest groups have suggested, and that we have seen similar things many times in the past with similar emotional outrage. I spoke of when the technology to record was first invented. Composers were the entire music industry, performers were considered trained monkeys, and those making recordings were pirates who would cause humans to lose our vocal chords.

I said that the governments of the day didn't allow composers to say "no" to recordings, and instituted a compulsory license where composers couldn't say no and simply received a government set royalty rate. The law was changed to add something called "Neighbouring Rights" where both performers and makers of sound recordings were given their own copyright.

I spoke also about why Hollywood is where they are, infringers fleeing westward to avoid Thomas Edison's Motion Picture Patents Company.

Fast forward about a hundred years, and we are now in a vaguely familiar situation. While a vast majority of composers and performers want to license a new socially beneficial way of distributing music (non-commercial filesharing, non-commercial distribution on physical media like "mixed tapes" and CDs), there is a holdout with the "makers of sound recordings" (record labels) wanting to say "no" and treat these things as "piracy" which must be stopped at all costs.

While copyright regulates different industries in entirely different ways, similar analysis can be done in each industry that copyright regulates.

I said that it is not the changes in technology or the conflicts between established and new creators that was new, but the government response. We should be instituting temporary compulsory licenses for these socially beneficial public activities, going along with what the majority of the music industry (nearly all composers and the vast majority of performers), rather than treating this as if it were some sort of "law and order" issue and following the harmful suggestions of the recording industry.

We spoke more about compulsory licenses.

I said that we sometimes need to remove the ability for a copyright holder to refuse licensing in order for copyright to work and for creators to get paid. Copyright holders don't always think as entrepreneurs, but as rent seekers who believe that you can continue to raise rents forever and that they will make more money rather than nearly all experience which suggests they make less money. Many people believe that once you have bought/licensed a song, you should be able to migrate it to work on the technology of the day. If we are forced to re-purchase music for every device will that mean more money to the music industry, or less as people stop buying music?

I indicated that compulsory licenses have tended to be temporary measures. We no longer have a compulsory license on compositions as composers freely license their works for things such as commercial radio. I suggested that any compulsory license for private copying or online filesharing would similarly be temporary until the relevant excessively fearful copyright holding groups switched from treating the activity as somehow harmful to being something that everyone made money from.

We spoke about a need to separate potentially harmful public and/or commercial activities from private activities. I suggested that in the past copyright only regulated commercial activities, as the equipment necessary to infringe copyright was expensive.

I suggested we had two very different policy paths we could take:

  • have copyright continue to get more and more complex, regulating nearly any private or public activity that involved involved human expression, and not adequately differentiating between activities which most consider harmless with those that most consider harmful.
  • carve out private, non-commercial activities from copyright such that only activities which are highly public (P2P filesharing) or commercial would be covered. I said, with apologies, that maybe "copyright has no place in the bedrooms of the nation".

We discussed WIPO briefly. I suggested that it is an agency that has great potential, and is a UN special agency built upon key clauses in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I suggested that there is a desire for reform by the countries representing the vast majority of the world's population, but latecomers to international Copyright like the United States have been very obstructionist. We need to ensure that Canada joins in with the majority world countries as our interests are closer to them than the narrow special interest groups which seem to have captivated the US delegations to this international forum. I suggested we should be thinking in terms of reforming WIPO and modernizing outdated treaties like the two from 1996, not ignoring or otherwise moving away from WIPO. I spoke briefly about the Brazil implementation of TPMs which made it illegal to abuse TPMs to circumvent the limitations and exceptions to copyright, the opposite approach to C-32 which makes all the contours of copyright subservient to the use of a TPM. I also mentioned the harm of ACTA, and how it can be seen as bypassing WIPO for relevant areas of policy and pushing very narrow special interest views.

While I was there as a technical person studying this area of policy, we never spoke at a detailed technical level. I never did my "I have 4 things in my hand" tool for understanding technological measures, and we never discussed my concerns about e-Books (or other situations where title of the physical medium is used in scenarios that don't involve a physical medium). My hope is that this is just the beginning of an ongoing conversation that will include such topics in the future. It is clear that he has interest, and I think the committee studying the bill could use a youth advocate who has more experience with technology than some of the people who have thus far dominated committees discussing this area of policy.

See also: Members of Canada's Federal Parliament I have met

Update: Justin Trudeau sent the following on Jul 22nd

@russellmcormond Thanks for the fascinating discussion. I look forward to our next meeting.