Though archivists, writers, libraries, schools, universities, publishers, advertisers, software designers, technologists, biochemists, social justice activists and many more are all directly and forever affected by copyright law, by far the sexiest topic in the copyright world right now is file sharing, particularly music file sharing. Bill C-32, the proposed amendment to the Copyright Act has far-reaching implications for our country. It concerns whether or not you can legally share a track with your roommate or seed to a torrent site or have any right to the technology you purchase. It should be about way more than record labels suing loyal (and profit-making) fans, but we just can’t seem take our focus any further than those sensual, booty-shaking, beat-blasting songs, videos and concert bootlegs.
So here begins a series on the proposed amendment to the Copyright Act. I’ll discuss music (natch) file-sharing technology and my thoughts on the future of the recording industry. It’s definitely the end of a world as we know it, but in my view, this is one of the most constructive, potentially invigorating and positive apocalypses to come about in a very long while.
From Copyright Criminals (PBS), “Sampling law has created two classes; you’re either rich enough to afford the law, or you’re a complete outlaw”
To begin with, let’s look at where we’re at. Music sharing isn’t new and never has been. In fact, to garner an audience, the history of music is such that the more people could hear and engage with music, the better off the composer was. Music at one time was always free and always public. Copyright is new, as is the technology used to share music. These two things are incompatible and seem to be at the heart of the copyright battle, but it’s really about much more than that. Who gets compensated for a work of art and why? And is it all up to the creator, and if not, who else deserves a cut, and how big should it be? It’s never exactly about music and it’s not actually about copyright in many cases. It’s about, value, credit, credibility and of course, money.
The current argument goes like this: our law is way behind our technology. Technically, you’re not allowed to rip a CD you purchased in order to put it on your iPod. So for that and a few other reasons, the Copyright Act should be amended. But, the proposed amendments from round one of this fight, nearly two years ago, were so draconian and unenforceable as to make fair use obsolete and to make Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology the end-all-be-all of copyright management. This was a profoundly unsophisticated view of how to apply appropriate measures to copyright enforcement that a storm of disapproval and public outrage actually stopped the bill from passing, forced the government to hold public consultations and come up with a new draft.
It is the opinion of this Music Editor, that the current draft is just as unworkable as the previous draft, so much so that it makes a mockery of the flood of public opinion made available on the subject.
The reason is that though many changes are actually quite beneficial and workable compromises, the issue remains that DRM software trumps any kind of fair-use provision in the bill. So, if I purchase several songs from iTunes for the sake of creating a seminar (let’s say) on local music in Montreal and I break the digital lock on the song to make an intro-mashup piece, even though the law permits educational use and fair use for YouTube, I’ve still broken the law because I had to circumvent DRM, the trump clause. This is not the right way to bring our laws in line with our technology. Worse, because it’s such a joke and so difficult to pinpoint, the entire law itself becomes irrelevant. Not a good precedent to set for a law and order parliament.
Dialogue around this bill, tabled via both the Industry Minister and the Minister of Heritage, tends to be around whether the public values art. In this case, apparently, if you’re against the bill, it’s because you think artists ought to work for free. One problem with this argument is the wild and reckless cuts to arts funding, particularly arts funding meant to expose Canadian culture abroad, committed by this government. It means that the government tabling the bill also seems to think artists ought to work for free and sets its example by gutting artistic grant programs. Second, record companies have no-one to blame but themselves for devaluing art. When they give creators 10-15% (tops) for making the music we love enough that we want to share, and then mass-distribute it via cheap, plastic discs for ten dollars or less, it can’t come as a huge surprise when the public simply follows their lead and treats it as nothing special.
Finally, the ramifications; making technological locks and monitoring systems the enforcer by proxy sets a standard of unprecedented surveillance and privacy invasion in our legal system. There are other, better ways to get artists paid than by suing fans and spying on how individuals use the products they purchase.
So let’s cut back on the rhetorical farce, shall we? In coming segments, I’ll be discussing hip-hop, jazz, current and past lawsuits, and the potential future of other media companies, specifically record companies. I’ll also be discussing the long-term ramifications of this bill, only a few of which can immediately be seen. Hit me in the comments of this blog, or check out the discussion section on our Facebook page to let us know what you think.