Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Best Buy a New (Copyfighters) Best Friend 

Here’s a news item that caught my eye: a great op Ed in the Vancouver Sun by the electronics retailer Best Buy. Not my favorite shop, necessarily, but every time I go there they manage to upsell me and I end up going home with some great stuff. This piece really helps to point out that at least as many businesses are on the side of “less copyright” as are on the side of drastically increasing copyright controls.

Why does Best Buy care about copyright law? I think that electronics manufacturers and retailers realize that a lot of their value comes from the power their products give their customers -- they're always trying to sell more powerful computers, with more storage, and bigger screens to watch all that copied media. As many others have pointed out, no consumer ever woke up in the morning and wished that it would be more difficult and more expensive for them to watch a TV show on their computer!

Opposing that vision of an open system with computers around the world busy doing what they do best -copying data- are the movie and music companies, who are advocating that we let them lock everything down and basically screw up our computers and the Internet so they can make a buck.

One of the reasons I work on the Wireless Nomad project is that I think that the open system is the better one -- it creates more value, fosters innovation, and reinforces our democratic ideals. Big Internet providers seem to be increasingly getting involved with content companies, and see the potential of using their privileged position in between users and media companies to squeeze some money out of both.

There is a lot of hope that even a little competition in the Internet market will help keep Big Telecom and Big Content in check. That's a Big Task, but as the Best Buy op-ed shows, people supporting the open system model might have a lot more powerful friends than they once thought.

Text from Vancouver Sun op-Ed on Canadian Copyright Law 

Text from Vancouver Sun op-Ed on Canadian Copyright Law:

"Copyright quagmire: Canada needs to update its laws for the digital age, but the wrong choices can lead to higher prices and more litigation"

Ron Wilson, Special to the Sun, on Monday, January 07, 2008

As Steven Page of the Barenaked Ladies observed about lawsuits, you can't say 'See you in court' one day and 'See you at Massey Hall' the next.

Undoubtedly, Canada needs to update its copyright law for the digital age.

The right choices could benefit Canadians. The wrong choices will lead to higher prices, more litigation and less useful content and technology.

As one of Canada's most successful entertainment and electronics retailers, we share our customers' interest in acquiring technologically innovative and advanced products at the best prices. Customers have the right to use and maximize their enjoyment of these products, and a fair and balanced copyright law is imperative in facilitating this.

We welcome the emerging debate on copyright reform. The recent federal government decision to delay tabling its new copyright bill is encouraging, if it means that consumers' concerns will be taken into account.

Although copyright law is a useful incentive for creators, it also inevitably grants monopoly rights and extensive marketplace intervention. Therefore, rights conferred on copyright owners must be carefully limited and counterbalanced.

The quid pro quo for these rights should be the fullest and fairest possible access to, and the right to use, protected works in a fair manner.

Canada should not import proven policy errors from other countries. Canadians have deeply held values of fairness and privacy.

Our copyright law is already stronger and better overall than that of the U.S., to pick the obvious and most important example. We already pay far more per capita than Americans for copyright payments in virtually all respects.

Here are the five specific principles that our brands (Best Buy, Future Shop) and our customers believe in:

n "Taxes" on technology are wrong. The private copying levy scheme should be repealed. Why should Canadians pay up to $75 in "taxes" on iPods and similar devices? Given the strong Canadian dollar and the ease of cross-border shopping, this proposed levy would have devastating effects on the Canadian market for these types of devices. Countless Canadians regard this tax as unnecessary, unfair and highly inefficient. Moreover, most of the proceeds leave this country.

n Creators of intellectual property deserve to be paid, but not multiple times through several collectives for proliferating and overlapping rights for the same transaction. For example, if a consumer buys a track from iTunes, the consumer shouldn't have to pay further costs for a "communication" right to receive that track online or for a levy to store it on an audio recording medium. Furthermore, where does one draw the line on the boundaries of this tax? This proposed levy sets a dangerous precedent that can easily extend to other devices such as cellphones, personal computers and laptops; in fact, this has not been ruled out by the Copyright Board.

n Consumers' rights shouldn't be removed by Digital Rights Management ("DRM") technology, which threatens to put digital locks on content, devices and ultimately our culture. Our customers should be able to do anything that is legal according to copyright law, including making backup copies and copying for purposes of fair dealing. The music industry itself is rapidly abandoning DRM. If anything, consumers need protection from DRM rather than the other way 'round.

n Canadians should enjoy a flexible and open-ended list of fair dealing rights, including time, space and format shifting, and the right to mix, remix, mash and engage in satire and parody. Our children now have creative tools we never dreamed of, enabling them to make professional quality movies, sound recordings and engage in remarkable research and learning. Let's not stifle them.

n Our customers shouldn't have to worry about being sued for private, non-commercial activities. Canada is not a litigious "zero tolerance" regime. If the law is amended to facilitate such litigation here, experience suggests that it will surely happen. We agree with Steven Page of the Barenaked Ladies who says, "We think lawsuits ... would be terrible for the music business in Canada. It's short-sighted to say 'See you in court' one day and 'See you at Massey Hall' the next."

We have spent a lot of time and money over the years fighting for our customers' rights. To do this, we have joined forces with our competitors under the leadership of the Retail Council of Canada and fought alongside key vendor partners.

We urge concerned Canadian consumers to join with us and write to their members of Parliament, Industry Minister Jim Prentice, Heritage Minister Josée Verner, and to Prime Minister Stephen Harper himself. They should join the tens of thousands already using Facebook and YouTube to make their voices heard.

Ron Wilson is senior vice-president, merchandising, Best Buy Canada Ltd.

Copyright © 2008 CanWest Interactive, a division of CanWest MediaWorks Publications, Inc.. All rights reserved.

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