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Jim Prentice backpeddles on Canadian DMCA

The paper had some very good news this morning on copyright in Canada.  Jim Prentice, the minister responsible for the bill, has delayed tabling it in the House of Commons.  The reason is apparently the outpouring of protest from individual Canadians.  In a matter of days, over 14,000 people have joined Dr. Michael Geist's Fair Copyright in Canada Facebook Group on this issue.  In addition, a group of over 50 people travelled to Prentice's constituency office to meet with him on the issue.

Prentice positions the bill as necessary to meet our obligations under the WIPO (the intellectual property treaty Canada signed in 1997, which has never been implemented).  However, as Geist has noted, this bill goes beyond what WIPO requires by implementing many of the most egregious provisions of the US DMCA.

The copyright lobby in the United States is very strong and has moved aggressively over the last decade to strip away and weaken many of the provisions that copyright has historically allowed.  In culture, for instance, quoting from another artist's work is not just a tradition, but it's the way that new artists learn their craft from the old. Try telling Bach, Beethoven, or Mozart not to quote from others. By making culture property, and protecting that property using the iron fist of the DMCA, Americans are weakening art, self expression, and ultimately history. 

Never mind the fact that the music industry is making criminals out of children who swap favorite songs with each other, and the fact that the preponderence of evidence suggests sharing music actually leads to more sales, not fewer.  Never mind that this has been the norm for the past half century —  who of my generation that can say they never made a cassette recording of a favorite LP for a friend, or a mix tape for a party?  Never mind the copyright battle before that which permitted radio stations to broadcast music.  No, the advent of the CD made copying more difficult for a short period of time, generating enormous profits for the American music distribution business, but not necessarily the musicians.  It is that business – the distribution of music – which now seeks to preserve those profits by making the sharing of music illegal.  The result has been the degeneration of American musical culture into an endless stream of mindless pop hits — chewing gum for the ears that fattens the wallets of the labels and crushes the voices of musicians.  A decade of drivel.  As American rapper 50 cent said last week:

“The advances in technology impacts everyone, and we all must adapt. Most of all hip-hop, a style of music dependent upon a youthful audience. This market consists of individuals embracing innovations faster than the fans of classical and jazz music.”

“What is important for the music industry to understand is that this really doesn’t hurt the artists.”

Fifty Cent argues that musicians earn their living from the shows and merchandise, not the recordings. 

“The main problem is that the artists are not getting as much help developing as before file-sharing. They are now learning to peddle ringtones, not records”

“They don’t understand the value of a perfect piece of art.”

They're learning to peddle ringtones, not records.  Ringtones… not records.  What an indictment! 

As Canadians we should be asking ourselves whether laws designed by American lobbiests to protect narrow American business interests are appropriate for our country. Moreover, given how clearly flawed those laws are, should we be importing the same principles into our legal framework? Do we want rich cultural institutions, and diverse voices in our country?   Do we want artists and musicians to find new audiences among the young?  Do we want to establish a vibrant digital commons for the expression of idea and art that is open to all Canadians?

Or shall we criminalize the possession of illegal cultural artifacts in deference to American business interests?

What do you favour?  Michael Geist hopes that Jim Prentice will entertain a public consultation across Canada.  If that's your wish as well, then please contact Jim Prentice to let him know. Phone: 403 216-7777, Fax: 403 230-4368, email:Prentice.J@parl.gc.ca

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