Friday, February 10, 2006

suckered into the copyright debate on a web forum once again... 

here is my response to a posting called "Anti-copyright: a rebel sell?" at www.blog.thismagazine.ca-- search for it, I'm not going to vote for it with a link.

True, few people working for/with Access Copyright want to stop an academic from citing a work and thereby censoring free expression: all they want is to have the academic pay them money each and every time they quote or speak. But free expression should be exactly that- free expression- not someone's business model, and should be the expression of an individual citizen, free from political censorship or economic coercion.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not guarantee freedom of expression only for those who own a printing press; nor does it only guarantee freedom of expression only for those who can pay to use someone else's printing press. Rather, it explicitly guarantees the right of every Canadian citizen to express themselves freely, out loud or on paper. It guarantees the right to criticize politicians, writers, judges and academics, and to criticize or quote anyone else, and for good reason.

That's only the beginning, because it's leaving out the obvious part about why free expression is important, but I will take it for granted we all agree that it is so.

The problem isn't only about censorship, though. It's also about business models acting as parasites, creating economic inefficiencies and using unfair "market" power.

Here's example of how it's happening already: the Copyright Act explicitly allows copying for research and/or private study, but for some reason Canadian universities charge Canadian students millions of dollars a year and give that money to Access Copyright as "compensation". As if students aren't paying enough already for the right to obtain education, Access Copyright has bullied the universities into letting them pick students pockets.

Why should university students, far from being the wealthiest members of society, and some even being under the age of majority, find themselves paying money to an organization to "allow them" to exercise a right to copy which they already have explicitly under the Copyright Act?

It's wholesale rip-offs like these that people see is unfair, and rightly so. Most students don't even know they are paying this tax, and from the point of view of Access Copyright, that perfect: taxation without representation has always been the most lucrative business model out there, despite its moral illegitimacy, and despite the fact that those being unfairly treated eventually figure it out and do something about it.

So instead of attacking people like Russell McOrmond, who is himself an author (albeit of computer code, which has equal copyright protection as poetry or any other work), the Access Copyright crowd had better start thinking about how they will pay their bills in a few years, when this nonsense is finally stopped, and students are no longer treated like cash crops, and are instead treated with respect and integrity. Copyright is no longer the game of big media companies, academic institutions and government lobbyists. With personal computers and the worldwide Internet, it's everybody's business, and, no, people are not just going to shut up and take it- they're going to do something about it.

Some are going to copy without authorization, infringing copyright left and right, without a care in the world. Some are going to make their own media, like Creative Commons. Others are going to make their own software, like open source programmers are doing. Others still are going to try to change the silly laws and policies and ways of thinking that got us into this situation in the first place. If being angry is what it takes, that's what we're gonna get.

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