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To Whom It May Concern;
I am writing, at the request of multiple individuals and organizations with whom I'm associated, to give you my perspective on the copyright debate. Although it is a complex issue I believe that the changes desired by media rights holders are entirely self serving and are not in the best interest of consumers, society, Canadian culture or the future of the digital economy.
First I think a look at the US style Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) speaks for itself. It has been in place in the US for over a decade now and has accomplished none of it's stated goals. The online sharing of digital media (music, films, television programs etc) has only continued to increase year over year. The lawsuits brought by rights holders have created an adversarial relationship between consumers on one side and the government and rights holders on the other and sales of all media have steadily declined.
The law assumes that everything that is downloaded would otherwise be purchased when there is no evidence to support that conclusion. One the contrary, every independent study on the subject has shown that the people who illegally download the most also purchase the most:
This demonstrates that most consumers are reasonable people — they may download things to sample but they will purchase things that they decide they like. Going on the offensive against file sharing will, as it has in the United States, cause further decline in the purchase of content without slowing down downloading.
File sharing has also provided a way for recording artists to find a wider audience. When fans distribute music, in a world wide forum, they enable people to hear things they otherwise would not have and enable artists to widen their international fan base. With the large record companies in irreversible decline artists have been forced to take greater responsibility for their own careers including promotion and distribution. File sharing and downloading has been an essential tool in this. The phenomenon is not limited to music. Though it's been slower to happen I have seen television programs and even films in Canada acquire a cult following before they were available here by any legal means.
It should also be pointed out that most of the public is unaware the rights holders receive no money from law suits. Settlements from US file sharing suits tend to be large. Usually they are so large that the individual being sued will never be able to pay them off. Because of this all the money received by rights holders ends up going to legal fees and court costs. What the public hears though is multi million dollar judgments in favor of large media companies. I personally believe that the repetition of these large figures is directly related to the declining support in the US for public subsidies for the arts or levies to compensate for piracy. If, in Canada, public support for arts subsidies and levies such as those imposed on blank media should evaporate Canadian rights holders and media companies could quickly find themselves in a far worse position.
I would additionally like to comment on the extended protection for copyright and trademarks in the US. It is the goal of every media organization, every artist and every corporation to become a part or popular culture; for their song, or their film, or their brand to be universally recognized, discussed and incorporated into people's daily lives. It is further the purpose of arts and media to discuss, reflect upon and comment on popular culture. In instances where artists or corporations are successful in becoming a part of the popular culture it is only natural that derivative works, artistic commentary, parody and satire will follow. It is quite simply the price of success. If you succeed in making alot of money, your taxes go up. If you succeed in becoming Prime Minister you musc accept daily criticism, If you succeed in creating a popular business your vacations become fewer and father between. If you succeed in becoming integrated into popular culture, popular culture will make comment on you and your success. In short, what rights holders are asking for in this case is exactly contrary to the normal functioning of art, society and culture and their demands should be flatly rejected without exception.
So what should be done? As little as possible. We are in the early days of the greatest cultural revolution the world has ever seen. Think back to the impact that the printing press, or the advent of television or radio had on society. Now imagine a world where virtually anyone, anywhere, can create content, tell their stories, share their ideas, and market and distribute the results worldwide. The large record labels would have you believe that the internet has been bad for music but according to the Toronto Star (http://www.thestar.com/entertainment/article/288598) the number of full length CDs produced has risen from 38,000 in 2002 to 750,000 in 2009. The decline of the big labels is obviously due more to competition than to piracy. Technology is rapidly becoming available that will enable people to produce short films, 'television programs' (distributed online) and even full length features at very little cost. We will no doubt see a period of some turmoil but each of the media revolutions that has preceded this one has lead to an increased awareness of the world, a deeper enlightenment about the human condition and ultimately higher standards of living and quality of life. I believe this is why the CRTC has largely taken a hands off approach with new media and the internet and I believe that they were right to do so.
It is time for the best and brightest minds in media to turn their attention away from what the government can do for them, away from what special laws and protections they can have and turn instead toward trying to gain a deeper understanding of the global digital economy. Instead of trying to figure out who to sue they need to try to find ways to monetize their content online and find opportunities for success there.
It is possible, and even likely that a new system of levies for internet users will be needed but a way must be found to distribute these fairly. It must be based on their actual audience, on what people download and how often and not arbitrarily decided by an industry group, guild or union based on who they think deserves the money.
One thing that should definitely be done is the creation of fair use, educational exceptions and public domain provisions for existing copyright.
Beyond that it is best to leave things alone and see how they play out for the time being.
In 1939 US author and future Senator Robert Heinlein said "There has grown up in the minds of certain groups in this country the notion that because a man or corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with the duty of guaranteeing such profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary to public interest. This strange doctrine is not supported by statute or common law. Neither individuals nor corporations have any right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped, or turned back."
This is exactly what large, well monied rights holders are asking, that the clock be stopped or turned back. When it comes to regulating media there is no imminent threat to public health, or the safety of society. There is also, to date, no successful formula for monetizing digital content (including the US formula which you are being asked to adopt). The people that create art and media including film, television and music are creative people. It is time to ask them to turn their creativity toward finding a successful financial system for digital media and the best way to foster that creativity is to step back from imposing regulation and let it run it's course.
We are entering into an exciting new age of decentralized, democratized media and any attempt at regulation at this juncture would only serve to stifle a very promising development. I have faith that you will do the right thing.