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Justin J. Snelgrove
How do Canada's copyright laws affect you? How should existing laws be modernized?
They affect every work with artistic or copyrightable merit I createor consume, as they do for all Canadians. As far as modernization, presumably with respect to digital concerns, I believe that Canadian citizens would best benefit from restrictions or elimination of digital rights management of all forms. These restrict uses of digital content and severely restrict or eliminate several rights citizens are granted under the fair dealing laws, as well as placing other sometimes-absurd restrictions on viewing or use of digital content.
For an example of this, one only has to look to Blu-ray (the recently-emerged format set to replace DVD). The Blu-ray spec, whiletaking extreme measures to remove the ability for consumers to make copies of any part of the content (which impacts the legitimateconsumer much more than so-called 'pirates'), also includes several mechanisms to lock out hardware or software playersfrom playing new releases, which can be done at the sole discretion of the manufacturers, for any reason. This means that theseveral-hundred-dollar Blu-ray players purchased by a reasonably large number of people may become useless for playing any new content, at the discretion of manufacturers — who may have a vested interest in forcing upgrades.
While this concern is not currently covered by copyright law, these digital attempts to enforce the law are vastly overbearing, and severely infringing on rights granted to citizens. In my opinion, any modernization of copyright should take methods to severely restrict, or eliminate, these absurd restrictions. Ideally, either a decryption key should, by law, be freely available to Canadian citizens, or these sort of systems should be entirely disallowed from being used on copyrighted works.
As a result of this view, I also believe Canada must be strongly against any attempts to introduce legislation similar to the American DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act). This sort of legislation takes away an extremely high number of rights, and introduces punishments on any attempts to recover lost rights, as well as a number of restrictions and punishments generally unrelated to actual copyright infringement in itself.
Based on Canadian values and interests, how should copyright changes be made in order to withstand the test of time?
Withstanding the "test of time" is a very difficult thing to do — optimally, copyright laws would be continuously updated with respect to the latest developments in technology and how that affects creative and artistic works. The issue with this is that those drafting copyright laws would have to be able to withstand the "lobbying" from corporations (who have a vested interest in controlling culture, instead of advancing it), instead of giving into it and changing laws to suit corporate interests as has happened many times in the past. With respect to copyright, the advancement and preservation of culture has to be a much more important concern than the profit and control of corporations.
As an alternative to continuous updates to reflect the changing technology available, copyright law should be written with an appropriate definition of creative or artistic works that does not limit it to certain mediums, and should include an inability for the rights granted to citizens to be artificially restricted or removed from copyrighted content (such as a restriction or elimination of DRM in all mediums that I spoke of in response to the first question).
In essence, copyright law needs to be specific in the rights and restrictions allowed (including, at a minimum, all rights of citizens currently granted by copyright law, namely through fair dealing), while at the same time being broad enough to not allow them to be exploited in the future, with future advances in technology.
What sorts of copyright changes do you believe would best foster innovation and creativity in Canada?
Copyright terms are the major concern for innovation and creativity. Currently the terms stand at life of the author plus fifty years — meaning, generally, at least two or three generations of a family can profit from a single work. This has two effects — the first being the limiting of any incentive for that author or their family to create more works that could benefit Canadian interests, values, and culture.
The second effect, which could be considered even more harmful, is the inability of others to create derivative works — sometimes to such an extent that a person alive upon the first release of a creative work will be dead long before the copyright term expires, never giving them a chance to publish a derivative work or idea. An example of the effects of this can be seen in the USA with the prevalence of parodies (explicitly allowed by their fair use laws) of copyrighted works being one of the only derivative works available which would not be infringing on the original copyright — and, as a result, illegal.
An example of such an illegal work that has clear artistic merit is a fan-created recut of two "Star Wars" movies ("Episode I: The Phantom Menace" and "Episode II: Attack of the Clones") from the DVD releases. These releases (respectively titled "Episode I.I: The Phantom Edit" and "Episode II.I: Attack of the Phantom") make sometimes major changes to how the characters act or how the story flows — clear changes based on an artistic vision of how that particular editor feels the movies could be improved from their original form — but are illegal under current copyright laws, and will not be legal for, likely, more than 50 years from the current date.
My view of copyright terms is that they need to be severely reduced, cut down to somewhere between ten and twenty years (which is approximately the length of one 'cultural' generation — partially demonstrated by the tendency to group styles of music in, approximately, decades). While derivative works would still remain illegal while under copyright, at least there would be a reasonable chance of them entering the public domain within the lifetime of someone alive at the initial release.
Current copyright terms also introduce an extreme sense of confusion, where works are almost always unknown as to when the copyright will expire. Even when they have expired, creating any sort of derivative work or using the work in a context allowed for a work in the public domain is nearly impossible. This is caused by the definition of copyright terms as life of the author, plus fifty years. The problems this creates are twofold.
First, the actual date the work becomes public domain will likely be unknown to many people — and is not something one can find from checking the work itself. The second issue is potentially a far more serious problem, which is that copyrights on different parts of a work (such as where one party gives another party a licence to use that copyrighted work in their own derivative) may expire at different times. There is not necessarily a logical sequence of expiration, and we are left with a situation where one work included in another may expire from copyright after the derivative has already been in the public domain for years. Both of these problems could be solved by a flat copyright term of an immutable number of years.
An example of this, as well as an example of how the public domain has a profound impact on an aspect of culture, can be found in the once- classic film by Frank Capra, "It's a Wonderful Life". This film, initially released in 1947, was considered a financial failure upon it's release, and largely slipped into obscurity shortly thereafter. In 1974, the film's copyright was not renewed (the reason is not known, but is suspected to be a clerical error on the part of the rights holders), and it passed into the public domain. In the early 1980s, it became a very prominent Christmas tradition in many places around the world — Canada included. For nearly twenty years it was played, without need for royalties, by many television stations, and in many malls and public venues.
There can be no doubt that it would not have become the ingrained Christmas tradition that it did, were the film under copyright. However, that all changed in the 1990s. Due to some complexities with copyright and derivative works, the rights holders to the original story that the film was based upon discovered that they could still enforce the copyright term on it and, by extension, the film itself. Since this discovery, namely in the past ten years, the film has nearly vanished from television around Christmas, and will rarely, if ever, be seen playing in a public place. A relatively-obscure film that rose to become a central piece of Christmas tradition in Canada and around the world has all-but-disappeared once again.
This is a sad example of both the confusion that can be caused by variable copyright terms, and of how culture and traditions are deeply impacted by the existence and importance of public domain artistic works.
4. What sorts of copyright changes do you believe would best foster competition and investment in Canada?
Competition and investment would be best fostered by a severe reduction of copyright terms (as well as patent terms), given that copyright law allows a limited monopoly on an artistic work. The shorter that limited monopoly is, the more competition would occur, even before the expiration of the work. After the expiration, the work would become public domain, which any individual or corporation can draw upon to create a new derivative work, itself under copyright. The faster this occurs, the more works would enter the public domain — as things stand, very, very few works are ever entering the public domain, for others to draw upon.
As copyright law around the world stands, currently one cannot make any assumptions about any works from 1923 or later being public domain. This has caused non-profit organizations, such as Project Gutenberg, to be forced to restrict their attempts to archive and provide old artistic works to the public to only those works published before 1923. Few works published after 1923 can even be touched by a creator without a serious investigation into where they and their component pieces come from, far too vast an investigation to be worth pursuing for many who may wish to use those works. This sort of situation can cause many potential creators to give up in frustration.
Investment opportunities would also benefit from a shorter copyright term, as there would be a dramatic increase in creative works (particularly derivative works, drawing upon recently expired works). Such a dramatic increase in creative works would cause culture to advance at a much faster rate, and create a huge number of investment opportunities in new ideas, derivative ideas, and the preservation and quicker advancement of Canadian culture.
What kinds of changes would best position Canada as a leader in the global, digital economy?
I believe that positioning Canada at the forefront of sweeping change in copyright law would demonstrate an ability to both place the interests Canadian citizens and culture, and by extension citizens and culture of the world, ahead of the interests of corporations. In addition, it would allow Canada to become a hotspot of creative and cultural development in the world, where culture and ideas are freer than anywhere else.
Such freedoms would encourage businesses, artists, filmmakers and anyone else interested in artistic advancement of culture to invest in Canada, and to follow Canada's example. We've always had a strong belief in preserving our unique Canadian culture — this time, I believe we should hold a strong belief in both preserving and advancing our culture, instead of letting it stagnate and slowly decay with the current draconian copyright terms and artificial restrictions.
To summarize my views on all five questions, I believe that a severe reduction in copyright terms, retaining or increasing the current rights granted to citizens and consumers of artistic works, and restricting or eliminating the ability for content producers to place unreasonable or unlawful restrictions on the use of copyrighted material, would be in the best interests of the Canadian economy, Canadian culture, and, above all, Canadian citizens everywhere.
Justin J. Snelgrove