Tag Archives: dmca

Call for papers on Literature & the Copyfight, for Congress 2012

Call for papers: Literature & the Copyfight, Congress 2012.

Critical scholarship is urgently needed to intervene on the question of copyright: once a staple stimulus for literary and cultural production that now tends more to stifle it. … This session invites papers on the relationship between literature, copyright, and the copyfight.

The deadline for submissions is 15 Nov. 2011 (see link for contact info). Thanks to ACCUTE and SDH for joint hosting.

[Instead of posting the complete call for papers here, I’m practicing not duplicating content.]

Before the Law: Histories of Copyright

You must imagine, at the eventual heart of things to come, linked or integrated systems or networks of computers capable of storing faithful simulacra of the entire treasure of the accumulated knowledge and artistic production of past ages…
–Benjamin Kaplan, 1967

Research for a talk I’ll be giving at #Congress11 includes reading some excellent studies of copyright in (or as) the history of literature. These studies share a couple of principles: they recognize the historical contingency of intellectual property law (it’s nothing natural), and they assert the fundamentally social character of all cultural production, in contrast to IP law’s attribution of it to individual “originality” (an attribution based on Romantic ideas of authorship). Mark Rose puts the matter succinctly in Authors and Owners: The Invention of Copyright:

The persistence of the discourse of original genius implicit in the notion of creativity […] obscures the fact that cultural production is always a matter of appropriation and transformation […] What finally underwrites the [modern copyright] system, then, is our conviction about ourselves as individuals. […] Copyright stands squarely on the boundary between private and public. (135, 139-40)

Paul Saint-Amour builds on Rose and other scholars in emerging cultural-economic fields — New Economic Criticism and Critical Cultural Legal Studies — to study copyright in Victorian and modern literature; however, his context is insistently that of the post-millennial copyfight, and he notes the contradictions of critiquing copyright on its own terms, through strategies of appropriation and infringement (like DJing, which I’ll be discussing elsewhere at Congress):

You can seldom criticize the law by breaking it and yet expect the law to forgive your infraction as criticism. Law is not an argument so much as an instrument of self-enforcement; thus, even breaking the law confirms the logic and categories of the law, which work to criminalize any transgressive act of dissent. In the case of property law, this circularity tightens further: criticizing standards of ownership can lapse into a near-absurdity when some of the most effective critical pathways — counterappropriation or parody, for example — are by definition already owned by someone else. (19-20)

(I was reminded of this comment when I found Martha Woodmansee’s syllabus for a course on “Intellectual Property and the Construction of Authorship,” with dozens of great readings made freely available for public download. If this is what fair use affords US educators, I’ll have what they’re having.)

The ability of the law to successfully prosecute infractions depends, in part, on how well the law makes itself seem natural, self-evident. Demystifying the self-evident naturalness of copyright law is a project of all these books, most ambitiously essayed in William St Clair’s The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period, a sweeping cultural-economic history that puts intellectual property law front and centre as a regulator of not just the publishing business, but also literary production and, most importantly, public access to reading.

Intellectual property has existed for so long that it is difficult to imagine a world without it, but it is not intrinsic to authorship, books, or reading as such, but it too came into existence in response to a conjuncture of economic circumstances which came together in the late fifteenth century. […] The intellectual property regime has changed frequently and drastically over the centuries. […] During the intervals when the normal intellectual property structures temporarily broke down, we can see that the whole economy of writing and reading immediately changed. (41)

So are we taking part, now, in a breakdown of IP structures, or in their further entrenchment? It can be bewildering and discouraging that the answers vary so wildly. Last week, copyright lawyer Howard Knopf blogged about Margaret Atwood’s comments on Bill C-32, which heighten “creator-vs.-educator” hostilities, and suggest misconceptions about IP law basics like fair dealing (which are especially troubling to see being expressed by such a major author). Histories of copyright bring some much-needed perspective to present debates so pressured by private-interest spin, by reminding us that copyright was invented to advance the public interest, and by suggesting ways to re-assert the priority of that interest and reclaim the cultural common wealth.

Works Cited
Kaplan, Benjamin. An Unhurried View of Copyright. New York: Columbia UP, 1967.
Rose, Mark. Authors and Owners: The Invention of Copyright. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1993.
Saint-Amour, Paul K. The Copywrights: Intellectual Property and the Literary Imagination. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2003.
St Clair, William. The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2004.

Canadians have until Jan. 31 to comment on copyright bill

As Michael Geist says in his blog post today, we Canadians have until the end of this month to send comments on the new copyright bill, Bill C32, to the legislative committee now responsible for it. I’m not sure it’s exactly the “Canadian DMCA” that Cory Doctorow describes it as (especially since the DMCA itself is now more flexible on fair use and digital locks than our expected bill), but a copyright bill has no business protecting digital locks. IMHO.
For the record, here’s the letter I’ve just sent. (To send your own, consider these sources and strategies.)

Dear Bill C32 legislative committee,

There are solid gains for fair dealing in Bill C-32, but the bill protects digital locks more strictly than current US copyright law or even ACTA, now — and this protection trumps the bill’s otherwise substantial gains in fair dealing for Canadian consumers, educators, and businesses. Furthermore, digital locks — TPMs, DRM, etc. — are not intellectual property and should not be covered by IP legislation.

Bill C32 should provide protection for circumventing digital locks when undertaken for lawful purposes. As has been widely noted, this provision would still let Canada meet its obligations to international copyright agreements like WIPO and ACTA.

Thank you for fielding my comments on Bill C32.

Bill C32: the Copyright Modernization Act

RT @mpjamesmoore: “Here we go”

Michael Geist has good and bad news on Canada’s new copyright legislation, Bill C-32: it’s “flawed but fixable.”

Canada could comply with WIPO Internet treaties, provide legal protection for digital locks, and still preserve the copyright balance. Doing so would simply require a provision confirming that circumvention of a digital lock is not prohibited when undertaken for lawful purposes. Similar language can be found in other countries’ digital lock legislation and – as the top issue raised during last summer’s copyright consultation – should have made it into this bill.

As I write this, Moore is re-tweeting positive feedback from entertainment lobbies (the Canadian Film and Television Production Association, the Entertainment Software Association, the Canadian Anti-Counterfeiting Network), but not feedback from, say, the Canadian Association of University Teachers; today’s CBC story (“Copyright bill would ban breaking digital locks”) quotes CAUT spokesperson David Robinson as follows:

the legislation presented today will make it even more difficult for university and college teachers and students to have access to and use copyrighted materials for teaching and learning. By imposing a blanket provision against all circumvention, the government will lock down a vast amount of digital material, effectively preventing its use for research, education and innovation and curtailing the user rights of Canadians.

Some of the other bad news is for Torrent-specific search sites: C32 will treat them as knowing “inducers” of copyright infringement. Canada’s Isohunt is already in a lawsuit case levelled by the RIAA, trying to defend itself as a public, net-neutral search engine. “Just like Google.”

So here’s what @mpjamesmoore and @TonyClement_MP and the Harper government need to hear: Tell the feds to #fixC32 with a provision that breaking digital locks isn’t to be prohibited when it’s done for lawful uses.

Meanwhile, ACTA would trump C32 like digital locks trump fair dealing…
So while you’re at it, customize and send this EFF online letter to tell the feds and your local MPs that ACTA is a sham, and it would make useless many of the gains in Bill C-32. (The letter does need some customizing for Canadian users; I’ll post again on that shortly.)

If there’s any good news on the ACTA front, it might be that India’s looking to build a countervailing coalition of states to oppose ACTA, described by copyright blogger Ray Dowd as an international agreement

so one-sided as to appear to have been spoonfed by certain aggressive Hollywood rights-holders who don’t think anyone can make fun of Mickey Mouse and that anyone crossing a border should be frisked for a fake Louis Vuitton handbag.

Congress 2010, day four

Author Lawrence Hill talks about _The Book of Negroes_. Photo courtesy of Boundry.

First thing (and I mean first thing, like before 8 am), Lawrence Hill read from and talked about his bestselling novel The Book of Negroes. (No spoilers, thankfully, as I’m not too far into it.) You can watch an archived video of the proceedings here.

I had to lurch out of there during the Q&A to get to my 9 am session with Socialist Studies on time. After our papers, AU colleague Jay Smith and I fielded great questions and comments about the copyfight from an audience modest in numbers but diverse and engaging in interest and questions: critical communication scholars, a rep from AU Press, a just-graduated English PhD…
A post-session coffee break introduced me to another AU prof, Ingo Schmidt, and then morphed into lunch as a reunion with my UNBSJ colleagues.

This is a placeholder for the better shot the waiter took with Madeley's camera.

The last Congress proceeding I took in was a two-hour panel on Open Access research and publishing, archived on video here.

The four speakers including law professor and copyright activist Michael Geist. Geist took a detour to brief the room on the new Bill C-32, the Copyright Modernization Act, being tabled this week. It was a briefing and a call to action, as Geist clearly explained the problem with DRM or “digital locks”: protecting them under copyright legislation ends up trumping other possible gains for fair dealing, education, criticism, private study, and other non-commercial personal uses of media content. As a call to action, Geist’s talk stressed that the bill might hold some good news (i.e. for fair dealing and education), so Canadians should demand the new bill be fixed, not killed. And fixing it mostly means permitting the circumvention of digital locks when that’s done for lawful reasons.

Geist explains what's wrong with protecting digital locks in copyright law. Photo courtesy of Boundry.

I managed to sneak in the session’s last question, really just to mention the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, which hadn’t yet come up in the session, but which seemed well worth mentioning, given the session’s Twitter activity showing a good deal of shock over just the new national bill itself.

Q: Is there any good news in ACTA? A: No.

I described ACTA as one of several industry pressures facing the OA movement, and asked if there was any “good news” with ACTA and how to mobilize against it. He said he didn’t see any good news with ACTA, but he did brief the audience about it: “The thing about this ‘Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement’ is that it’s not about counterfeiting or trade — it’s an intellectual property agreement.” One, as he summarized it, that would be like a DMCA for the whole world.

After which I retreated, under already smoggy skies freshly smeared with the smoke of nearby forest fires: to catch up on Congress blogging, to meet my UNBSJ colleague for a splendid Caribbean dinner at Mango Bay … and to go buy two dozen St Viateur bagels to fly home with.

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.

A scholarly take on the copyfight & pop culture

Academicalism has a new section for CC-licensed research, and the first working paper I’ve posted there is one I’ll present later this month, for the Socialist Studies conference taking place as part of Congress (Canada’s annual Humanities and Social Sciences bashment):

“The copyfight, science fiction, and social media”

Cory Doctorow, one of the authors discussed in the paper, has kindly made time to read it and post a positive response his blog, for which I’m very thankful.

Between this endorsement from one of today’s biggest “copyleft” advocates, and the Socialist Studies connection, I may think twice about crossing the US border anytime soon.

What’s at stake in Canadian copyright “reform”?

Since I’ve started tweeting (ranting?) about Canada’s copyfight, some of my Facebook correspondence has become consciousness-raising about it. Two friends, Sandra Johnson and Adrian Bashford, have graciously agreed to go on the record and let me post our talks about the issue, hoping to help clarify it for others.

Talk with Sandra Johnson, 9 May 2010
Talk with Adrian Bashford, 5 May 2010

Sandra Johnson, 9 May 2010

Johnson: … it’s also the first time in days I understood all the words in your status.

Me: … I’ll explain. DMCA = Digital Millennium Copyright Act, US law for a few years now. The UK just got something similar, the Digital Economy Bill. And Canada’s government now seems poised to push a similar bill on us.
Promoted and passed under the guise of protecting entertainment companies from “piracy,” these are bundles of laws that represent huge infringements on our privacy and freedoms. Not content with suing customers, the entertainment lobbies are pushing hard for these laws and broader international agreements.
Author Cory Doctorow’s column in the Guardian sums up the problem these laws pose as “dictatorial hell”.
So we can’t let this type of shit pass in Canada. A year of “public consultation” gave the government an overwhelming public No to laws like these. Which they look ready to ignore.

Johnson: Meep! Glad I read that. You’ve opened my eyes, Mark, yet again. I’ll read all you post on the topic from now on. That being said, where exactly does Canada sit right now, and what is being done to stop the goosestep toward it?

Me: I follow Ottawa law prof Michael Geist’s blog about this stuff. He’s on top of it up to the minute, and his website has primers on what’s happening with this law — and with ACTA (the global agreement being sorted out secretly by participating states, including Canada).
My last two blog posts summarize the issues, include a few links — including the CCER’s online form letter you can use to paper a few MPS’ offices pretty quickly.
You can also join the Facebook group “Fair Copyright for Canada.”
With the national bill coming and ACTA, the Canadian government looks more than willing to give Canadians’ digital rights over to multinational entertainment companies. Want a sense of the kind of people our governments are locking down the Net to appease? The kind who say “child porn is great.”
As for what’s being done to stop it, Geist’s advising lots and lots of short, snail-mail letters to as many MPs as you feel like badgering. Again, my last blog posts have tips for dispatching some.
Sorry, that’s a bit longish a reply for FB.

Johnson: That’s great, Mark, and by keeping in a public post, others can jump in as well. I’ll be checking out all the sites, and chatting up a few MPs.

Me: Let me just add that maybe the best one-stop primer on the issues we now face in this bill is the NFB documentary RiP: A Remix Manifesto — which you can freely watch online at the link.
Thanks for making time to talk about this. I know you hadn’t banked on the distraction.

Johnson: It’s actually a topic that flitted across my brain a few times when I’d read your status. … Now that I have grasped the concept, I’ll start paying attention. My friends will get tired of hearing me spout off about it, I’m sure.

Adrian Bashford, 5 May 2010

Bashford: …What kinds of problems will this law lead to? I personally believe in paying for content, but the devil is usually in the details of these things.

Me: I’m not at all against paying for content. I’m against paying exorbitant damages for downloaded content. See the NFB film RiP: A Remix Manifesto for some shocking cases of RIAA lawsuits…but you’ll know about some of these already.
The whole film can be watched online.
and it summarizes many of the main problems with DMCA and DE Bill type laws.
I’m against a law that obliges ISPs to snitch on customers for P2P activity. … See more
A law that makes it illegal for me to download a crappy digital version of an LP I bought on vinyl and already paid royalties for.
A law that greatly restricts Canada’s current generous fair-dealing provisions for personal, review, and research uses of IP.
A law that protects not just intellectual property but digital locks — regulating not just how you buy what you buy, but then how you have to use it. Digital locks have nothing to do with IP but they’ll be protected under proposed legislation.
A law that criminalizes copying. And consumption.
I could go on…watch RiP, check out Ottawa law prof Michael Geist’s blog, read some of the work in this area by Lawrence Lessig (Free Culture) and James Boyle (http://www.thepublicdomain.org/download/).
I’d be curious to hear what you think of their takes on all this.

Bashford: Thanks for the quick summary, I will do some digging as suggested!

Tweet-size letters against Canada’s DMCA, ACTA

If clarity, concision, and long-hand are integral to writing effective letters to politicians, here are two Twitter-sized communiqués (yep, 140 characters each), that you can copy out and snail-mail to speak out against a Canadian DMCA-type copyright bill, and/or ACTA. They’re convenient, replicating them can help send a strong, unequivocal message, and they’ll even fit on a postcard. (Remember, no stamp needed to mail them to MPs c/o House of Commons, Ottawa, ON, K1A 0A6.)

I oppose any IP bill that includes strong digital lock provisions, excludes flexible fair dealing protections, & ignores public consultation

I oppose Canada’s secretive and undemocratic participation in the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), and I also oppose ACTA itself.

Sure, you can tweet them too. But you can’t tweet them directly to the ministers responsible for the expected copyright bill, Hon. James Moore (Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages) and Hon. Tony Clement (Minister of Industry) … tellingly, they neither follow anyone nor have any followers. Okay, they may follow and have followers, but looking for them during the “Twitter follow bug” made for a convenient reminder that their IP “reforms” don’t follow public opinion.

Canada’s DMCA puts us all on the front line

The Canadian Coalition for Electronic Rights now offers an automated online letter app that will send a lot of paper to Ottawa on your behalf to protest the Harper regime’s expected copyright bill. You can follow the CCER on Twitter too. Hell, you can follow the Hon. James Moore, Minister of Canadian Heritage and the chief pusher of this police-state bill. Or check out Canada’s torrent search engine, Isohunt, for what I was about to call front-line updates from this copyfight, but the fact is — as the USA’s DMCA and the UK’s new DE Bill show — we are all on the front line, here. Cory Doctorow describes the “road to dictatorial hell” paved by the DE Bill, as

a law that establishes an unprecedented realm of web censorship in Britain, a law that provides for the disconnection of entire families from the net on the say-so of an entertainment giant, a law that shuts down free Wi-Fi hotspots and makes it harder than ever to conduct your normal business on the grounds that you might be damaging theirs.

Stoking the tree-eating fires of a letter-writing campaign has got me interested in the tactics and efficacy of writing to politicians. See the comments tacked onto my last post–to sum them up: keep it short, write it by hand, and CC as many MPs as you like, but especially your own riding’s. And be specific. So while we get told to STFU and wait to see how heavy a club our own DMCA will swing, one question I have, in the interests of effective political letter-writing, is this: what is the number of the bill being proposed? If it’s only five weeks until we get digitally locked out of our freedoms and our privacy unfairly dealt with, it can’t be too early to ask.