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Creative Commons vs. House of Commons

May 16, 2010

Just when Canadians thought the Guergis-Jaffer affair was yesterday’s news and all was quiet on “The Hill” (in Canada, that’s a reference to Parliament Hill in Ottawa and the aforementioned “affair” is a little government scandal that has monopolized the news here), the Government has quietly turned up the heat on the copyright issue, in a little noticed, “let’s not let the public get alarmed” sort of way. According to a reliable source, the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper plans to introduce a new copyright law, which will mirror that of the United States, contrary to the mainstream point of view that was collected during public consultations held  by the government last year.
Michael Geist, Professor of Law at the University of Ottawa, holds the position of Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law. Not coincidentally, Geist is the Co-Director of Creative Commons Canada. In a recent Blog Post, Geist warns Canadians about the impending introduction of a new Copyright bill. Just how the bill will look when it is introduced remains to be seen, but judging by Geist’s warning, Canadians need to be alarmed at the way it is playing out. He claims that the two Ministers involved (the younger, progressive, iPod generation Minister of Canadian Heritage, Mr. Moore, vs. neo-conservative, “takes his marching orders from the Prime Minister’s Office” kind of guy, the Minister of Industry, Mr. Clement), could not reach agreement and that the Prime Minster has given the order that a new bill, with more restrictive, US style DMCA provisions, and less “fair use” provisions will be on the order paper. Canadians are all too familiar with this Prime Minister’s habit of taking, in the past,  his own marching orders from the former Bush government and its big business, right-winged Republican agenda. As shown in this video , where Australian Prime Minister John Howard and Stephen Harper, before he was Prime Minister, read almost identical speeches in their respective Parliaments, it’s not a stretch that Harper will do so again (This speech was about invading Iraq, to the benefit of the Military-Industrial Complex, but I digress!). Despite the fact that the video was produced by the opposition Liberals and is, therefore, somewhat biased, there are few plausible explanations other than the speech was supplied by the Bush administration. Both Parliamentarians are strong allies of the Republican party in the USA. What’s not clear, is why Stephen Harper has chosen to fashion the new Canadian Law after the US DMCA, disregarding the clear messages delivered by the Canadian public during the consultations about the need for clear, progressive, “fair use” provisions.

This preamble is critical to understanding the background to the point I am now about to make concerning Creative Commons. Why would Canadians, Americans, citizens of the world, for that matter, let their individual governments decide how the information they create, post and share freely be controlled arbitrarily by anyone else other than the person who created it? Copyright laws tend to be black and white- either you can copy it or you can’t, with little wiggle room in the middle. They tend to favour, I think, publishing companies and big music companies rather than artists. The use of Creative Commons allows the creator to freely choose what purposes and the conditions under which their own creations can be used by others, as opposed to a Government deciding to protect the interests of those who did not create it.

In a way, licensing your own work, a photo on Flicker, a video on Youtube, a Blog post on Blogger circumvents the power of special interests who see copyright as an authority to be used to control the free flow of information. That is why I have chosen to use Creative Commons Canada License 2.5 the “Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Canada” license. This allows for the free sharing and remixing of this Blog, as long as attribution to me is given.

There is a powerful message delivered when we encourage students to put Creative Commons licenses on their own Blogs, Voicethreads, Glogsters and other online creations. We have taught by example when they see the license on our Blog. They will see the value of their own digital citizenry when they check the origins, ownership and licenses associated with the information they consume from the Internet when being creative, and in demanding that others respect their license, they will understand that acting with integrity means reciprocating.

So, I am all for holding the power to distribute my work and bypassing the Government of Canada, who have acted too slowly on the copyright issue, more worried about their tenuous hold on power rather than the speed at which technology is changing in this country and around the world. Branding our creations, albeit insignificant ones like this Blog, send a message to governments everywhere: What’s mine is mine and I have the right to tell the world what they can do with it.

And by the way, please share this Blog freely with your friends and colleagues. Just tell them I wrote it.

UPDATE- it appears as though the government ministers battling it out over the new copyright law for Canada may be in role reversal. Moore, the younger, iPod generation government Minister who oversees Canadian Heritage is in favour of more extreme and restrictive copyright provisions and Clement, the older, and more neo-conservative, Minister of Industry, has taken a less restrictive, more “fair use” approach. Could be an interesting battle when the Bill hits the floor of the House of Commons, as early as next week.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. admin permalink
    May 24, 2010 8:54 am

    Fascinating. Had read some on the subject before, but didn’t know all the background on the key players here.
    Using CC to bypass traditional copyright for individuals is a great strategy, but it is still pretty alarming that some are pushing for more restrictions on the commercial content available. What do you think are the roots of this push? Is it as simple as the businesses driving the government, or are the artists looking for more stringent restrictions to protect their work?

    Sounds like a mess either way, will be interesting to see how it pans out.

    FYI, you have some sort of a Twitter widget on your blog that is causing an API login window to pop up about every 30 seconds for me. Showed up 4 or 5 times as I read your post. May want to re-post that Twitter widget you’re using.

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  1. » UPDATE- Canada’s New Copyright Law tabled in House of Commons Instructional Media or “What’s an Overhead?”

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