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Copyfight in Canada

Precedent, a magazine about the “new rules of law and style” for lawyers in Canada, had an article entitled “Copyfight” in its latest issue. There was a bill (C-61) that fell by the wayside because of the last federal election being called. Various lawyers discuss the merits (or lack thereof) of C-61 which was assailed by its critics for making most of the public into “copyright criminals”. As the premise of the article goes:

Not long ago, a copyright protest would have seemed like a piece of absurdist parody (“Actuaries of the world, unite!”). But the federal government has made it clear that it intends to rewrite Canada’s creaky copyright laws, and in a world awash with media, everyone has something at stake. Creators want to be paid for their creativity, while consumers want to enjoy, share, and re-purpose it. Copyright has never been as clear as property rights, and deciding what’s legal hasn’t always been easy. In fact, it’s turned into a very public, very bitter tug-of-war – an out-and-out copyfight.

One of my favourite writers/bloggers in the area of copyright/intellectual property matters in Canada is Michael Geist, a lawyer in Ottawa who is the “go to” guy for the media on these sorts of issues. I’ll leave the last words for him, but I have that good old-fashioned contradiction inside of me on this issue – I certainly make “fair use” of many songs out there (if I own the album, I don’t see why I can’t download the mp3 version), but if I ever do publish a song, I wonder how “fair” it will seem to me then… Oh that I would have such a problem!

“We ought to recognize that copyright is not the only incentive to creativity,” says Michael Geist, leaning over a table at a tiny, packed Second Cup on the University of Ottawa campus (“his second office,” noted a colleague).

Geist isn’t a free-everything activist (of which there are plenty on the Internet). But he has argued loud and long that overprotection can be as dangerous and innovation-stifling as underprotection.

Geist argues that users’ rights to use copyrighted works for fair purposes shouldn’t be restricted by contracts or digital locks. His vision recognizes that, like it or not, users are increasingly becoming creators in their own rights. With the advent of “Web 2.0,” the technological barriers to accessing, altering, and rebroadcasting copyrighted material have evaporated. And, adds Geist, “what used to be a relatively small community of geeks became us. It became the Canadian public.”

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