While unfortunate, I was not surprised to hear that representatives of the Writers Union of Canada (TWUC) crashed a private meeting of the Association of Canadian Community Colleges (ACCC) on November 12'th. Like a "Yes Men" type of event these uninvited guests forced themselves in front of the assembled members to speak and pamphlet. They were rude enough that they had to be asked to leave the premises. TWUC protesters video taped their intrusion and sent out a press release.
I was worried this type of thing would happen when I heard that John Degen had become the executive director at TWUC. I first met Mr Degen in 2006, and my concern then was that a certain subset of authors he was part of were lobbying to remove choices from author. Suggesting that there is only one true business model to pay authors, and that authors should not be allowed to explore potentially more lucrative alternatives, appears to remain at the heart of the TWUC protest.
My most recent interaction with Mr Degen was on twitter. It related to an article about how publisher Hachette U.K. was abusing contracts to disallow authors who signed with them in one country to make their own technology choices in other countries.
Mr. Degen mistakenly believes that so-called "DRM" protects the interests of authors, and works to push his beliefs on others. When writing about this issue in the Bill C-11 FAQ I clarified that there are losses to authors due to unintended consequences from misunderstood and misapplied technological measures. My advice was for authors to spend the time it takes to learn the basics of technical measures in order to differentiate between technologies that will help your business, and those that will only harm. Authors being able to avoid technologies which harm their own interests is what Hachette U.K. and Mr. Degen are trying to disallow.
The specific protest in November relates to the movement by the educational community away from the Access Copyright licensing model to other legal alternatives. This is not as TWUC claims that authors aren't getting paid what they are owed, but authors getting paid through methods that don't involve Access Copyright as an intermediary. Students and institutions already pay for textbooks, already pay for digital databases, and are are increasingly paying for the creation of Open Access materials. Institutions are finally making better use of the limitations and exceptions built into our Copyright Act to handle those few scenarios where they aren't already paying, where no payment is owed, but where they may have been paying in the past.
The issue is not about Copyright or infringement, but about competition. The TWUC protest is about as legitimate as having a group of employees of Walmart protesting the fact that people were shopping at competitors like Target, Zellers or Giant Tiger. It is clearly ludicrous to suggest that the education sector should be treated like some sort of corporate elite, the target of protests by the real "Yes men". This type of rude treatment by people claiming to represent authors will only make dialog harder than it already is.
My hope is that Canadian writers will speak out against this type of protest which, like advocating to remove author choice, will only harm the interests of Canadian authors.