Today I learned that the Canadian federal government is seeking public
input in order to refresh copyright law. So I offered some — copied
If we are to update copyright legislation in Canada, the first question
is to ask what social good the law is supposed to promote?
I think everyone will agree that copyright exists to make it possible
for creative people and organizations to be (financially and otherwise)
compensated for their effort. If I write a book, I expect to be able
to profit from its publication. If I write and play a song, the same
I don’t think this principle is any different in the digital age.
What has changed is the technical ease with which consumers of
digitally-encoded content can break copyright law and redistribute
content in a manner which does not reward the original creative person
This has caused content brokers (e.g., music distributors, movie studios)
to panic, because it threatens their business model. Note that music
is not threatened, and it’s likely that movies aren’t either — it’s
the companies that “buy content wholesale and sell it retail” who are
While it’s important to reward content creators, it would be much harder
to argue that a broker, who purchases content from its creators,
promotes that content (i.e., marketing) and sells that content deserves
the same protection by law.
The Internet has a powerful effect of removing friction from the
marketplace. It replacies business models based on brokerage with
ones based on adding value to a product or service.
Real estate agents, stock brokers and travel agents have all already
learned that in the Internet world, they must add value to a transaction
or go out of business. The same should be true of book, music and
Consumers have rights too. I think it’s unreasonable to have to
pay twice for the same content, if I want to use it in a different way.
For example, if I purchase a CD, I should not have to pay again to
listen to it on my MP3 player. If I buy a movie, I should not have
to pay again to back it up, play it on a different device or invite a
friend over to watch it with me.
So what can we conclude from all these observations?
* Copyright is a useful tool and should continue.
– But … it should protect the author, not the broker.
– This means that it should be reasonably short — say 10 or 20 years,
and definitely no longer than the life of the author.
* Copy protection is an impediment to fair use. While content
publishers and brokers should be free to try to sell content that
has been encumbered by copy protection, they should not be
encouraged by the legal framework to do so:
– Publishers should be required to advertise what sorts of
copy protection are embedded in their products, so that
consumers can make an informed choice about whether they
want to buy such encumbered products. Publishers may
quickly learn that consumers don’t like being restricted!
– Mechanisms that allow consumers to bypass such copy protection
should be explicitly legal. This is sort of the opposite
of the DMCA – an ill-conceived US law.
* Some use cases will continue to be complicated and we’ll have to
figure out, as a society, how to support them:
– How does a library work in a DRM-free digital age? If I borrow
a CD from the library and encode it into an MP3 so that I can
play it on my commute, that seems like a legal use case. But if
I return the CD and keep the MP3, that’s a copyright violation.
How will we, as a society, persuade people to not do that?
– If I’m an artist and I embed audio and video snippets into
an A/V compilation video, that should be legal. But if I embed
a whole 3.5 minute song, or 10 minutes of video from a commercial
movie, that probably shouldn’t be allowed, unless I pay for
the rights. Where is the threshold between these scenarios?
With updated copyright legislation, content authors should be protected
by law (not by technology!). Content brokers will probably have to
come up with new business models, where they truly add value to a product,
or else go out of business.
Business models should never be based on “we will prevent you from doing
X” — they should always be based on “we will enable you to do Y.”
Using the Internet, content authors are already able to survive and
thrive without large, corporate-style brokers in any case — the argument
that the sky is falling because music labels have declining revenue is
complete bunk, as anyone who searches for indepdently-published music
online can see.
Just my $0.02. 🙂