Submission on Copyright Reform

(Submitted to Canada's Copyright Consultation on September 11 2009.)

I'm a father of two young boys, aged 3 and 1-1/2. Copyright affects me, my family, and my role as a father, and I want to make sure Canada gets it right.

Copy restrictions make me pay twice (or five times, or...)

Like many people, I let my kids watch a carefully-picked set of movies and TV shows on our DVD player. They're eager to help, and so I let them put their DVD in. But my sons are also young, and so the DVDs get scratched and covered with jam and, in time, become unreadable.

I'd like to back up those DVDs. I paid for them once -- why should I pay for them twice, or five times, or a hundred times? Yet if we had the punishments for circumventing copy restrictions the US does -- and that the movie and music industry are lobbying for here -- my choice would be to either resign myself to purchasing their DVDs again and again, or risk jail time -- all because my toddler wants to be helpful, and I want to back up those DVDs.

Or take the example of the Broadcast Flag, proposed in the US. The idea is that, by law, all equipment capable of recording TV shows must look for a watermark hidden in TV broadcasts, and refuse to record any show where it was present. I use a Personal Video Recorder (PVR) to record TV shows for my sons to show them at a time that's convenient for all of us. I pay my cable company $65 per month for the privilege of seeing these shows; why should I be prevented from seeing them at a different time?

I don't want copyright law meddling with equipment I own. I'm not a criminal, and I resent the presumption that I am -- a presumption inherent in proposed laws that would keep me from shifting media that I've paid for between devices that I own.

Format shifting and device shifting should be legal for Canadians. There should be no criminal penalties for these activities when done between devices owned by the same person. And the software tools that allow these things must be legal.

Internet spying on behalf of industry cartels breaks freedom of speech

I keep hearing proposals that Canada adopt so-called "three strikes" laws -- that people convicted of copyright violations be denied Internet access.

The idea of muzzling the free speech of someone convicted of a violation of copyright -- turning a civil matter into an excuse to deny access to the greatest democratic forum ever created -- is a terrible one.

I'm going to do my best to teach my sons to respect the rights of all Canadians. That will mean teaching them to respect the conditions under which artists release their work.

Yet I also want them to know that respecting rights means respecting freedom of speech. I want them to see the depth and breadth of discussion that occurs on the Internet. I want them to join that discussion -- whatever side they may take.

I don't want that participation in democracy cut off because of:

  • lawsuits trawling for names and convictions, propped up by shoddy detective work
  • mistaken ideas about what constitutes identification of a computer
  • or even genuine violations of copyright law.

Artists worldwide, including Sir Paul McCartney and Sir Elton John, have rejected these measures.

Canadians should not be prevented from accessing the Internet because of copyright volations. The punishment proposed proposed far outweighs the crime. Participation in democracy is too valuable to sacrifice to industgry panic-mongering.

Satire and parody are important tools of any democracy

I've mentioned the importance I place on teaching my sons to participate in democratic debate. Part of that means being open to the idea that sacred cows will occasionally -- even often -- be gored.

When I see:

  • Walmart Canada taking action against a union to "require that the union not use the words "Wal-Mart" or "Wal-Mart Workers," not make fun of the Wal-Mart slogan "Save Money. Live Better," not use oval signs similar to Wal-Mart signs, etc"

  • or provincial courts holding that parody is not part of fair use

then I don't know what to tell my sons. Should I say:

  • "Democracy: great idea as long as there are no copyrights involved"?

  • "Freedom of speech, but don't make the company with the expensive lawyers angry"?

  • "Start saving now, and get ready for that lawsuit"?

Parody and satire are critical to democracy. They deflate the self-important; they make pomposity obvious; they invite us to laugh rather than hurl rocks or throw fists.

Copyright protection in Canada must include respect for democratic debate. Copyright should not trump parody or satire. This legal regime is subservient to democracy and its tools and its expressions -- not the other way around.

Culture is built on other culture

My sons love their books and their TV shows. But much more than that, they love the stories that these things are mere vehicles for. Some day, if they are so inclined, I want them to be able to tell stories of their own, in whatever medium they want. Maybe it will be just for them, for their friends and family; maybe they will aspire to inspire the world instead.

But when copyright becomes a way to infinitely extend what was meant to be a limited monopoly, their ability to tell those stories will shrink and wither, and Canada's culture will shrink and wither with it.

Copyright terms should be limited. It is a trade: a government-granted monopoly on copying, given to the creator, in return for their work becoming part of the collection of work that all people can draw on when that monopoly expires.

Yet in the US, we see copyright term extensions that stretch to nearly a hundred years after the death of the creator. This is what keeps Mickey Mouse out of the public domain -- but more than that, they keep every bit of culture written in the US since 1927 out of the public domain.

That culture is off-limits, locked up, hidden behind paywalls. Want to make a movie that re-imagines "Gone With The Wind" crossed with "Star Wars"?'re not allowed.

When my sons grow up, will they have the right to re-mix the stories they've been told -- to mash them together and see what they can come up with? Will they be able to mix Mordecai Richler's "Joshua Then And Now" with Hugh MacLennan's "Barometer Rising", or "The Friendly Giant" with "Hockey Night in Canada"? Will they be able to follow their ideas and create their own stories, using those they grew up with -- or will the gatekeepers of artists long-dead keep them away to protect profits and business models?

Copyright term extensions threaten to lock up Canadian culture for the benefit of a few corporations. They deny future generations the right to change those stories to meet new needs and serve changing times. More simply: stories beget stories. Let's make sure we set them free for all our children.

This consultation should not be the end of the conversation

Holding this consultation is a welcome step -- but it's just the first one. It is important that this transparency, this opportunity to debate, not be given up when a bill is finally introduced. Over 4,000 submissions demonstrate that this is an issue Canadians care passionately about.

The bill will go before committees in Parliament -- but it must also go before Canada. Citizens must be given the chance for meaningful input into the process, now and in the future.

Thank you for your time.