Heritage minister out to kill Canadian heritage

That sounds like I’m reporting this for The Onion. I wish.

Yesterday’s National Post reported that the Harper regime plans to push a DMCA-style copyright bill on Canada as early as next week. So this morning I tweeted the ministers responsible as follows:

@mpjamesmoore @TonyClement_MP Waste & unaccountability in government = pushing a copyright bill most Canadians don’t want

Harper’s government campaigned on accountability and austerity, and while the copyright bill isn’t the first 180 they’ve pulled on that platform, it’s especially bold: ignoring the public consultation results, and tabling laws that will be hard or impossible to enforce. Laws like those the old UK government rammed through last month, only to give place to a new government already looking to repeal them. (How’s that for tax dollars at work?)

So the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages looks set to kill Canadian heritage. Here’s how:

1. DVD region formats. A commentator on Geist’s blog, Jean Naimard, writes: “One thing that’s very important is to drive home the point that the bill will prohibit multi-region DVD players. This sure will ring nice with all those immigrants who are suddenly told they can no longer legally watch DVDs from China, Viêt-Nàm, India or Europe.” Another commentator, Ben, replies with a sense of the legitimate trade traffic at risk:

I have and daily watch DVDs from HK and Japan. I legally bought them (together they’ve cost me over $1000) and the Conservative Government (who I didn’t even vote for) has no right to make my viewing of them illegal. These aren’t exactly DVDs I can pick up in region 1 in HMV and I probably never will be able to.

DMCA-style anti-circumvention clauses against hacking or breaking digital locks would make workarounds for DVD region formats illegal. The new bill would do extensive damage to an international trade relationship and a vital medium for Canadian multiculturalism.

2. Denial of access to the cultural commons. The expected bill’s restrictive instead of flexible fair dealing provisions will lock away cultural products that would otherwise be accessible for study, review, teaching, and adaptation–or that could, under different regulations, be released to the public domain. The expected IP bill favours “Big Media” copyright owners at the expense of flexible personal use and public access that represents a debilitating compromise of our cultural heritage. (Lawrence Lessig and James Boyle both make the point that conventional copyright, the removal of public deposit requirements, and more recent copyright term extensions have left most of the A/V media archive of the twentieth century out of the public domain and the cultural commons. The expected law entrenches and deepens our inability to access heritage resources, whether for research or new cultural production.)

3. Un-Canadian techno-Luddism. Another Geist blog commentator, “Bobzibub,” says the new bill will “entrench by fiat an obsolete business model which drags the whole economy down. Smashing looms mandated by our government loons.”
Good point. As Maurice Charland (1986) and Arthur Kroker (1984) argued–in ways still highly relevant today–Canada imagines itself very much as a “technological nation.” The expected copyright bill is a discouraging act of technological Luddism that sabotages Canada’s extraordinary heritage in culture and technology.

4. User privatization and US ideology. This is a more abstract point: By criminalizing media consumers en masse, the proposed copyright bill could also drive a lot more Internet traffic to encrypted and private modes like Freenet; it’s outcomes like these that makes the bill wasteful for being unenforceable, and a further risk to Canadian heritage. How? By driving more Canadian Internet traffic underground, this bill would cultivate a culture of atomizing securitization and privatization that’s much closer to the US political subjectivity of a “market society” than to the traditional Canadian political subjectivity of “state society” in which a “market economy” is balanced with—not privileged over—a collective commitment to social safety nets. This bill represents yet another colonization of Canadian culture with US ideology.

But all this is perhaps unsurprisingly in step with just what the Harper regime considers to be “Canadian” culture anyway, as demonstrated by its de-funding of equity organizations, international exchange programs, new media production. I hope the Hon. Minister Moore has been too busy fielding flak to take notes on what Arizona’s been up to recently.

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