Politics for Joe

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Hubert O'Hearn
Politics for Joe
By: Hubert O'Hearn

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Copyright and the Right to Copy

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For curiousity's sake, I wonder how many readers know what legislative language actually looks like. In relation to the government's Bill C32, amending the Copyright Act, the following is how Parliament describes what you or I know as “a band putting out a CD”:

  1. to make a sound recording of it available to the public by telecommunication in a way that allows a member of the public to have access to the sound recording from a place and at a time individually chosen by that member of the public and to communicate the sound recording to the public by telecommunication in that way;


It is for this reason that no Canadian Member of Parliament will never, ever be seen on stage doing a guest shot with the Tragically Hip.

That was a fairly cheap joke taken at a serious issue, but Copyright Law is dry enough to turn an ocean into a beach, so one must squeeze in the entertainment where one can. This week, a Murderer's Row of Canadian writers from Atwood to Yann Martel signed a letter printed as an ad in the Usual Prominent Dailies protesting C32. So what's the beef?

Right at the outset, I do want the reader to know that C32 is a sincere attempt by the Harper government to manage an issue that may well just be unmanageable in the internet age. A computer expert I used to work with told me a basic truth: Anything that can be displayed on a computer screen can be copied. It can be easy, it can be hard, but it can be done. And the issues flow out of the cracks of that truth sneak into all facets of Canadian life. Here are two of the many questions that the Bill writers had to deal with:


  1. Because rights of unauthorized reproduction can so easily be broken, an artist's only hopes of being paid royalties are payments made by legitimate organizations that are legally obligated to make honest reporting to scrutinizing authorities. Yes, like schools. So, should schools and their boards (and ultimately you the ratepayer) pay additional copyright fees for material which the students can find for free on their own?

  2. To at least take a stand against unauthorized reproduction, one method would be to effectively insert spyware into every possible piece of copyrighted material (pretty hard to do in the case of text) monitoring its usage. You share – you're busted. You disable the spyware code – you're busted. Do you have a problem with that, honest citizen?


Such choices would send Solomon running for the wine cellar. And I have to give an honest thumb's up to Harper for even making an attempt at a solution. They don't have to, you know. And this is not an issue that will swing a single seat in a federal election.

Yet, it is an issue that does directly or indirectly involve every citizen of this country. I invite the reader to do a little personal research and develop your own position. However, I do suggest that whatever Bill is passed by the Canadian or any other legislature, it will be seen as a laughable antique Tinker Toy construction within two years.

Broadly stated, media has become the most pluralistic industry in the world. A million and more individual producers of words, music and film all hoping to catch a wave and 'go viral' thus making a whack of money from advertising. As such, it is quite possible that by restricting access and reproduction in any way, governments are choking back the one thing artists need to thrive: the greatest reach to the greatest number.

So am I therefore advocating tossing Copyright into the bin? No. For the large media production companies will continue to exist, have the loudest voice and pay their dues and royalties. Their market share will just continue dipping. The biggest network five years from now may be as big as PBS is today, but that is still pretty big. As well, one must have success stories in the arts in order to offer artists some objective rationale for what they do. So those who can pay, should; those who can earn, should be protected.

But as the final trades and positions are being staked, I do remind the government and the reader that sometimes the old saw, 'he who governs least governs best' still applies.

Be seeing you.

Hubert O'Hearn
for Lake Superior News

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