Tag Archives: copyright

“The TPP will invalidate millions of dollars of tax-payer funded research in Canada”

Following the annual conference of the Association of Canadian College & University Teachers of English (ACCUTE) at Congress in Calgary, ACCUTE has posted to its English Matters blog a condensed version of my conference talk on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (#TPP):

“The TPP will invalidate millions of dollars of tax-payer funded research in Canada”: Implications of the TPP for Canadian literature and literary studies

The article identifies many major authors whose entry to the Canadian public domain the TPP will interfere with; and it highlights a few publishing and research projects that the TPP will kill, thus posing a waste of public funds and a cost to Canadians’ social literacy and access to knowledge.
The article ends with links and resources for how to “stop the TPP and the mess it would make of the Canadian public domain (not to mention the Internet).”
A full version has been sent to Canada’s Minister of International Trade, and submitted to the Government of Canada’s Public Consultations on the TPP.

Just published: “The DJ as Critic”

ESC-DJarticle_collage“The DJ as Critic”: my article in the latest issue of English Studies In Canada. Seeing work reach print never gets old, but the design of ESC is always exceptional, from typeface to pull-quotes.
This issue also features work by national treasures like Diana Brydon, Susan Brown, George Elliott Clarke, Smaro Kamboureli & Len Findlay, to name just a few…so I’m thrilled my words get to rub paper shoulders with such a Who’s Who of Canadian literature and literary studies.

This article is presently available only in the print edition of ESC; I will update this post when the article becomes available online.

UPDATE: This issue of ESC is now digitally available via Project Muse. The article is at this link, available to Project Muse users (i.e. postsecondary students and faculty). If you don’t have Project Muse access, but want a copy, just e-mail me a request for it. (That’s one way fair dealing works.) Eventually it will be openly accessible at ESC‘s website, but not for another year or so.

New Fronts in the Copyfight, Part 2

Now published, just in time for Fair Dealing Week 2016: Part 2 of New Fronts in the Copyfight, my guest-edited series in Digital Studies/Le champ numérique (DSCN). DSCN is an open access journal in the Digital Humanities. New Fronts in the Copyfight is a series featuring innovative, multidisciplinary directions in critical copyright studies. The new installment includes research articles by Dr Carolyn Guertin (author of Digital Prohibition) on digitally remixed creativity, and by Dr Daniel Downes (author of Interactive Realism and co-editor of Post-Colonial Distances) on a theory of “transproperty.” The installment also includes my review of Rosemary Coombe et al’s Dynamic Fair Dealing (2014), an excellent book, and a timely one, given the fast-approaching review of Canada’s amended copyright act and the copyright implications of the signed but not yet ratified Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Make the Trans-Pacific Partnership (#TPP) a bigger issue in the 2015 federal election: it’s not “free trade,” it’s anti-democratic privatization and censorship

After I posted this message about an anti-TPP petition to Twitter and Facebook, a friend asked:

I am interested in knowing exactly what parts of this you disagree with and why. I don’t know too much about the deal.

To which I replied (in a possibly too-long-for-Facebook comment that might work better as a blog post):

In brief: the TPP is less a “free trade” deal than a corporate rights deal that undermines the national sovereignty of signing countries. It has been negotiated for years – in secrecy. Particular concerns (to name only a very few, in addition to its anti-democratic cloak of secrecy) are:

  1. Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions that let foreign companies sue our government on grounds of lost profit; four instance, legislation to protect the environment or the public interest – or Crown corps like CBC or Canada Post – could be grounds for a company to say this legislation hurts their profits, and the action would be decided in a secret tribunal. (These kinds of actions have already been happening under NAFTA; in the late 1990s, a company that manufactured a harmful gasoline additive successfully sued the Canadian government for millions in damages after the government passed a law banning it from gasoline.)
  2. Copyright term extension from 50 years after author’s death to 70, to conform to US copyright law. (Meanwhile, many copyright scholars agree copyright need last no longer than 15 years after a work’s publication.)
  3. Loss of digital privacy and threats to Internet access by forcing ISPs to spy on customers and deny them internet service – this is a provision much like the US’ controversial SOPA act defeated in 2011.
  4. Job losses: Harper says the TPP will create jobs – but he’s already pledged billions to dairy and auto industries against their expected losses.

For more details, see MichaelGeist.ca and OpenMedia.ca and take a look at this short introductory video:

And following up to better explain the ISDS thing, which isn’t well or widely enough understood, I also shared this infographic (by the Council of Canadians):

CanadiansOrg_ISDS101

The Canadian public needs to understand the wide-ranging, anti-democratic, and socially and ecologically destructive implications of the TPP agreement. Its text isn’t even public yet, and it’s not at all a done deal – it will need the formal approval of signing nations’ governments, meaning our Parliament. So the TPP should be a much bigger issue in this federal election. If you think so too, consider signing this petition against it.

And if you’re wondering how the Harper government has been able to pursue this agreement in the midst of an election period, when the Canadian government is supposed to stop its regular Parliamentary functions and maintain only a “caretaker” status:

Further Reading

John Nichols, The Nation: “The TPP Prioritizes the ‘Rights’ of Corporations Over Workers, the Environment, and Democracy.” 7 Oct. 2015.

“The TPP agreement ‘would overhaul special tribunals that handle trade disputes between businesses and participating nations’ in response to ‘widespread criticisms that the Investor-State Dispute Settlement panels favor businesses and interfere with nations’ efforts to pass rules safeguarding public health and safety.’ … Bernie Sanders was blunt about the fundamental flaw in the pact. The TPP, said the Democratic presidential contender, lets ‘multinational corporations rig the system to pad their profits at our expense’.”

Jordan Pearson, VICE: “What we know about the secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership that was just signed.” 5 Oct. 2015.

“Buried in the reams of dry legal jargon of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (‪#‎TPP‬) are stipulations that will affect everything from access to pirated movies and music, to government spying, to the price of life-saving drugs around the world. …
“When the TPP is finally released, expect the policy shitshow of the decade.”

Maira Sutton, Electronic Frontier Foundation: “Trade Officials Announce Conclusion of TPP – Now the Real Fight Begins.” 5 Oct. 2015.

“The fact that close to 800 million Internet users’ rights to free expression, privacy, and access to knowledge online hinged upon the outcome of squabbles over trade rules on cars and milk is precisely why digital policy consideration do not belong in trade agreements. Hollywood, other major publishers and even big tech companies have taken advantage of this secretive, corporate-captured process to pass rules that they could not otherwise get away with in an open, participatory process.”

Margaret Atwood on McLuhan’s copyright contraband

I’ve just stumbled upon this great anecdote that Margaret Atwood told the Globe & Mail in 2011, about Marshall McLuhan and his first book’s tussle with copyright.

I was one of those people who luckily was able to obtain a copy of The Mechanical Bride, early on. You know that he had to pull off the shelves – do you know this book at all?

He reproduced a lot of ads, from soap companies and cigarette companies and everything. He showed the actual ad, and then he would do an analysis of them. And it is very funny.

But the companies whose ads they were took exception. Copyright issues. And he had to pull the book. But he had them in his cellar and if you had contact you could purchase one out of the back window of Marshall McLuhan’s house – so The Mechanical Bride, a piece of genius.

McLuhan’s work sometimes shows a critical concern with copyright; The Medium is the Massage anticipates and encapsulates more or less the whole argument of Mark Rose’s 1993 book Authors and Owners:

“Authorship” – in the sense we know it today, individual intellectual effort related to the book as an economic commodity – was practically unknown before the advent of print technology. … The invention of print did away with anonymity, fostering ideas of literary fame and the habit of considering intellectual effort as private property. … The rising consumer-oriented culture became concerned with labels of authenticity and protection against theft and piracy. The idea of copyright – “the exclusive right to reproduce, publish, and sell the matter and form of a literary or artistic work” – was born. (122)

This section goes on to theorize photocopying as a democratized, user-driven form of “instant publishing”: Anybody can now become both author and publisher. Take any books on any subject and custom-make your own book by simply xeroxing a chapter from this one, a chapter from that one – instant steal!” (123). McLuhan here presents an image of radical appropriation, of the kind that copyright maximalists like the photocopy royalty-collecting agency Access Copyright (formerly CanCopy) have been invoking to lobby and litigate against fair dealing for years now. This is not to say that McLuhan’s image exemplifies fair dealing, the users’ right in copyright law that allows for certain limited reuse of copyrighted works (see “What is Fair Dealing”): he leaves unclear whether the hypothetical user is assembling just one compilation (which would be more fair), or mass-photocopying multiple copies (which would be less fair); and whether the user is using the compilation non-commercially (more fair) or for sale (less fair).

Since not only The Mechanical Bride but also The Medium is the Massage, War and Peace in the Global Village, and Culture is Our Business made extensive collage use of cut-up print media samples, maybe there is, in Atwood’s suggestive anecdote, a fuller story worth looking into. One wonders if copyright was a legal pretext exploited by the advertisers whose work he reproduced simply to suppress what he had to say about them – what he had to say about postwar advertising wasn’t good. Atwood’s description of McLuhan’s purportedly infringing work as “genius” also related interestingly to her own statements on copyright from around the same time, which tended to side with proponents of the kind of copyright maximalism that would severely curtail not only fair dealing but even the kind of licensed, commercial reuse that made so much of McLuhan’s work possible and so distinctive in the first place (see Knopf; McCutcheon, “It’s unfair”). Were books like The Mechanical Bride and The Medium is the Massage in production today, it’s conceivable that the hefty fees now being asked for permission to reprint song lyrics, poetry lines, and photographs (McCutcheon, “Cento” 92) could prove prohibitive, and prevent them from ever getting to print.

Works Cited

Atwood, Margaret. “Margaret Atwood, uncensored.” The Globe and Mail 29 Apr. 2011. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/editorials/margaret-atwood-uncensored/article578234/?page=all
Knopf, Howard. “To Margaret Atwood: Copyright and Cars cannot conflate.” Excess Copyright 14 Mar. 2011 http://excesscopyright.blogspot.ca/2011/03/to-margaret-atwood-copyright-and-cars.html
McCutcheon, Mark A. “The Cento, Romanticism, and Copyright.” English Studies in Canada 38.2 (2012): 71-101. http://ejournals.library.ualberta.ca/index.php/ESC/article/view/21280/16093
—. “It’s unfair to impugn #cdnpse…” Tweet 7:27 pm, 14 Oct. 2012 https://twitter.com/sonicfiction/status/257668880841973762
McLuhan, Marshall and Jerome Agel. The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects (1967). Berkeley: Gingko, 2001.
Rose, Mark. Authors and Owners: The Invention of Copyright. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1993.
“What is Fair Dealing and how does it relate to copyright?” Library, Simon Fraser U, 4 Mar. 2015 http://www.lib.sfu.ca/faqs/copyright-fair-dealing

A Partly Automated Sonnet-Cento About Copyright Present and Future

This partly automated sonnet-cento, about copyright present and future, is composed of lines from my tweets with the technical help of Poetweet (which I can’t stop using, now that #writing201 has alerted me to it).

“Can’t we cut a little bit more, drawn from our collective pasts”

you to go to jail for sharing files
despite undecided legal challenge
and anti-democratic trade deals
poverty and climate change

and clarify notice-and-notice
amendments on controversial
users with baseless legal threats
for the use of copyrighted material

information in payment demands
models and monopolistic advantage
emphasis on the need for balance
use of Canada’s cultural heritage

exec started making some calls
your personal information to trolls

Poetry Potluck, the Public Domain, and “The Red Wheelbarrow”

The WordPress #writing201 poetry course has invited us to take a weekend break from writing, to share our favourite poems by others. I’d like to share a poem that is legal to freely reprint in full in Canada, but that would be infringing copyright in the USA and the UK. And then I’ll explain why this is important.

The Red Wheelbarrow
by William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens

I want to share Carlos’ poem for three reasons:

  • because the poem (which I first read in my first university English class) exemplifies poetry as what Toronto’s former poet laureate Dionne Brand calls “a perfect kind of speech”;
  • because today kicks off Fair Use Week – a week devoted to raising awareness of the users’ rights in copyright law1;
  • and because the Canadian public domain lets me – as yet.
  • As a copyright scholar, I am as interested in how bloggers are sharing poems as in which poems they’re sharing. Whether #writing201 bloggers are infringing copyright by reprinting poems in full depends on where they are. For instance, here’s one blogger’s reproduction of a famous Robert Frost poem. Frost died in 1963, so his work is still copyright protected in the USA, the UK, and other jurisdictions where the term of copyright protection extends to 70 years after the author’s death. In Canada, though, the copyright has expired on Frost’s work – that is, Frost’s work is in the public domain – because Canadian copyright law only protects work until 50 years after the author’s death. So the complete works of some major authors – Frost, Hemingway (died 1961), Sylvia Plath (died 1963) – can now be freely copied and shared in full – but only in jurisdictions with shorter copyright terms, like Canada.

    Each January 1st, the Public Domain Day organization announces which canonical authors and cultural producers are entering the public domain that year. But the coming years may see fewer entries as corporate lobbyists continue to press governments for ever longer copyright terms in trade talks, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as a party to which Canada is now reported to have caved in to the demands of the USA to extend our copyright term to 70 years. Longer copyright terms don’t mean better pay for creators: major studies have shown that copyright need extend no longer than 7 to 14 years after publication (never mind after the creator’s death) to reap optimal financial rewards (Giblin 2015, Gowers 2006). All longer copyright terms mean is a diminished, impoverished public domain – our common cultural heritage – and increased control by corporations over the production and distribution of culture.

    Note
    1. Fair Use, or in Canada fair dealing, is the users’ right that allows you to make certain non-infringing uses of works that are still copyright-protected – as I did in my acrostic last week, which sampled lines from several contemporary US poets. The public domain describes works no longer protected by copyright. So fair dealing does not apply to the public domain, but both fair dealing and the public domain represent important provisions for users, rather than creators, of culture, which is why I mention Fair Use Week here.