Dubai to Ottawa by Video: Bill C32 in Squiggly Bits

At 8 p.m. Dubai time, I was sitting in front of a video screen on which I could see myself in a little box. The Committee Room — it must have been — for the Parliamentary Committee on Bill C-32, the copyright revision bill, was represented by a large box full of squiggly bits. I could hear the speakers in it but could not see them. I had been asked the day before to address the committee. This is what I said:

Thank you for inviting me. I address this committee from the position of an author who has been involved in publishing since the 1960s, both as writer and as publisher, and who has lived from the proceeds of writing – fees and royalties – since the early 1970s.

I am in the 10% of North American authors who live from writing. Even those within that 10% often end with tiny incomes. The loss of a thousand dollars is significant to them. A writer with a salaried position at a university may have a different view.

I frequently allow free use of my copyrights. When I make such gifts, that is my choice.

1. I will speak only about the extension of “fair dealing” to include “education,” however interpreted.

2. I am in favour of cheaper education for students.
But if cheaper education is a public good, all should contribute. Not just authors.

3. Removing authors’ copyright for “education” without compensation or choice would not be “fair dealing.” It is not fair (why only authors?) and it is not dealing (it takes two to deal).

4. A copyright is property. It can be owned, sold, licensed, and inherited.

There are only 4 ways in which property can be removed from its owner without consent: 1. Theft. 2. Expropriation, which does however include some payment. 3. Confiscation, as from criminals. 4. Requisition, as in a war.

If this copyright property grab is confiscation, what criminal act has the author committed? If requisition, what is the war? If theft, those authorizing the stealing should be charged. If this property grab is expropriation for the Public Good (as in land for highways etc.), the public should pay.

4. The author will be compensated, we are assured. How? There is no mechanism proposed, and no recourse for unfairness except through the courts. Given what I have said about tiny incomes, it is obvious that authors could not afford this. Whereas big educational institutions – floating as they do on public money – can.

5. Finally: If the government can snatch the property of authors in this way, without consent or payment, who and what will be next?

I have put the bold part in bold because later in the proceedings someone I could not see started shouting at me that it was outrageous for me to suggest that “educational leaders” — although some of these these have indeed spoken of all the money they are going to save by not paying collective license-to-copy fees to the authors’ collective — these folks would ever do anything so weird and bad as to rip off authors, and that they would –honour bright! — of course adhere to the “6 laws of fairness” as laid down by the Supreme Court.

I asked how these six guidelines were to be enforced: who’d be the policeman? There was no answer. Fact is — or so it would seem — If the law goes through as proposed, it will be up to the authors to monitor the educational institutions, then take them to court if they err.

Which the authors won’t be able to afford. Catch 22.

Or rather, Catch Bill C-32. Sorry, Author-living-below-minimum-wage, but that’s the breaks eh, and you alone in the whole educational food chain will lose out.

I wonder if the government really intends this effect. If it does not, it needs to re-think the way it has structured this part of the Bill.


Filed under 1, YOTF Tour Blog

16 responses to “Dubai to Ottawa by Video: Bill C32 in Squiggly Bits

  1. Elena Bardina

    I just read The Handmaid’s Tale and it took my breath away. I know this comment might be in the wrong place. but I was so moved and impressed by your novel, that I just had to express somewhere that I think that you are just the greatest writer and thinker.


  2. Pingback: Dubai to Ottawa by Video: Bill C32 in Squiggly Bits (via Margaret Atwood: Year of the Flood) | The Calculable

  3. I’m so glad that there are authors like yourself who can put forward these arguments from the vantage point of industry experience, tempered with (don’t hate me for saying it) the kind of measurable success which means they might even take you seriously.

    Although it is of course another big jump to manage to package that perspective in such a way that it can be hammered up the noses of politicians.

  4. I absoluely loved the handmaids tale…so delighted to come across your posts.Eliza Keating

  5. Brian Brennan

    Excellent presentation. Cogent and compelling. Too bad the apologists for this blatant attempt to steal the work of creators refuse to listen to those who say that theft is wrong.

  6. Joanne Carnegie

    Thank you, Ms. Atwood, for your brilliant reasoning and your unflagging generosity in sharing the products of it with us in this way. Point # 4 above (beginning with “a copyright is property”) is a perfect gem: the most concise, pointed, and rhetorically satisfying explanation of the Bill C32 swindle I have encountered.

    No wonder poor Mr. Del Maestro felt the need to hit the mute button during your presentation. Parliamentary etiquette prevented him from sticking his fingers in his ears and humming (another well-known method of preventing words from entering one’s thoughts).

  7. Robert Booth

    Ms. Atwood,
    Copyright law has, until now, only granted artists limited rights where, in return for their efforts, the people of Canada have expended public resources to defend these rights in the marketplace. While many may have imagined that this also gave them every right to prevent anyone, anywhere from enjoying their work without paying, nothing could be further from the truth.
    Canadians have been reading your work, for example, without paying for it since before the Internet. Your fans have been lending out their copies (which they own), giving them away, or even selling them (for which you got nothing). And libraries were entitled to lend multiple copies of the same work to multiple patrons (without limit) in a concerted effort to minimize cost.
    However, with the Internet, this reading without paying has really taken off. Your work has been copied and shared on CDs DVDs “thumb drives” wirelessly, in bittorrent and on Tor and Usenet and through “sneakernet”, and none of these readers have ever been charged with any crime. In fact, it has been generally accepted that these acts are anonymous, that they can not be detected, let alone associated with a person, who could then be charged with a crime.
    Bill C-32 offers to change that for you. It opens the door to enforcing copyright online, to monitoring and recording everyone’s previously private data, to holding Internet account holders personally responsible for these new copyright violations over “their” connection, from “their” machine. It spells the end of anonymous speech, and so, I would argue, the end of truly free speech. The chilling effects are like a tsunami that wipes out whole cities. I am trying to impress YOU with words here.
    We are doing this because we love our artists. We want to encourage you to create. And at least partly because many of us underestimate the difficulties and expense that we will face for you, in making this change.
    But, Ms. Atwood, you must first come to understand that we cannot stop the sharing of copyrighted material inside our educational institutions. It is now an irreversible part of student culture. We cannot agree to take on that battle, to tie up prosecutors and courts, to sue college kids on your behalf, or to kick them off of the Internet. They are not going to pay you, no matter what we try to do to them for you. Ever.
    The “deal” we make is this: we Canadians will now extend your rights onto the Internet, and in return you will accept that some horses have left the gate, that some genies have been let out of their bottles. Never before have I ever wished so hard that I could write half as well as you do, Ms. Atwood. Thank you.

    • marg09

      Dear Mr. Booth: Thank you very much for your concern. But I am very confused by some of the things you say. Where to begin?

      First, who is the “we the public” who have been battling so hard for authors’ rights and spending so much money doing it? And why have we not been told of this before?

      Second, libraries: it is not true that authors do not get paid for libraries’ use of their books. Authors fought for years and years and years and years to obtain Public Lending Right, on the “fairness” principle that everyone connected with libraries (the librarians, the janitors, the users) benefitted except the writers. Authors do not make much money this way but they do make a token amount. It lets them know at least that their function as primary source in the food chain is acknowledged.

      Third, I have no interest in taking college kids to court, and, for the record, I find the idea of snooping on people through the Net repugnant, and a step towards dictatorship. In the imagined future of The Year of the Flood, this is just what happens: the Gardeners avoid computers and cellphones, because “If you can see it, it can see you.” The amount of free copying and whatever that goes on is probably 5 percent, and not all of the people who do it are students. Maybe there should be a little Virtual Donation Jar on every author’s website so that the folks who’ve listened to the free music in the subway (so to speak) can toss in a couple of dimes. 🙂 Of course some authors are so poor that they don’t have websites. 🙂 🙂

      What we are talking about is not kids but “educators,” who presently pay a collective licensing agency for the right to have profs put stuff in “course packs,” for which the the students are charged. The rate to institutions is calculated, I’m told, at so much per student head. That seems to be what is at issue — the “educators” don’t want to pay the authors, I am told, although everyone else in this food chain benefits. The students have been told that the course pack fee will go down if the authors aren’t paid. (They may like this now, but will not like it so much if they themselves should become authors in the future.) As I’ve said, University fees are too high — but why should a much-needed decrease come at the expense of authors and authors alone? Again, it’s like the library issue — why should the authors be the only ones left out? What wrong have they committed?

      University presidents have a median salary of $300K. Authors, $20K.
      Silly them for not taking up jobs as university presidents and slaving away in the wordmines instead, but still…

      As for the deal you say #C32 is offering – giving authors the right to snoop on kids through the Net, say Aha! and then sue them — please. Can you imagine a more idiotic or improbable scene than some little old lady author living in reduced circumstances in a pay-as-you-can retirement home trying to pursue a 17-year-old through the courts? Why would any author want to do that anyway? Kids are the readers of the future. You know that. I know that. It’s not the kids, it’s the “educators” – the ones that don’t want to deal with the licensing agencies that were set up by authors in the first place. And a certain kind of politicians — the kind that dismisses writers anyway, because they feel that the only voice that should be heard is theirs.

      Universities are funded by the public through their taxes, via governments, and by private donors. Does the public and do the donors really want universities to prosper at the expense of authors? Guess we’ll find out.

      • Robert Booth

        Dear Ms. Atwood,
        Thank you for your reply. It is a great day in my life, having this discussion with you. Unfortunately for me I have to disagree with you, verbally, on your blog, and I am so poorly equipped to do so. But let me take things in the order that you have set out.
        First, by “we the public” I mean to point out that copyright is not a natural right. If anything, copying is the natural right. But in exchange for your efforts (which in your case are, simply, unparalleled), “we the public” agree to forfeit the right to copy them, and what is more, to prosecute violators with public funds and resources. Consequently, we all pay more for your books than they cost to print, roughly by the amount that you receive in fees. This is so successful that print shops which violate copyright are almost unheard of now.
        Second, libraries are still free for the public. The Public Lending Right is not related to copyright law. It is an additional incentive which uses library data to encourage writers. I believe such methods should be preferred over Internet snooping, but it is a loosing battle. Every day the courts find some new way in which information can be illegal. And now that there are so many ways to break the law with information, it has become necessary to monitor the net, to police those laws.
        In the United States, some fourty thousand individuals have been pursued by music publishers for copyright violations, primarily school kids. I wish I could believe that bringing U.S.-style copyright law into Canada would not result in lawsuits, or kids getting cut off from the Internet, but that is exactly what Bill C-32 is all about.
        I understand that what you are talking about is “course packs”. But they are more of an exception to the way that content is paid for in schools. Usually the professor assigns a reading list and the students either purchase the books themselves, often used, or borrow them and copy them themselves. University photocopier centres are instructive places for this discussion. The machines run constantly from fall until spring with long lines of students copying books whole, right under the copyright warnings that nobody reads.
        As this content becomes more and more digital, whether we are talking about e-reserves, or e-books, the ease of copying, the financial incentive to copy, and the challenge of breaking any copy-protection, means that the University becomes a battleground over copyright. Universities will either teach people to disrespect copyright, and by extension to disrespect all law and government, or we will grant them these exemptions. Darknets are already popular on campuses, if we grant these exemptions they become unnecessary. Otherwise they will carry on after University, and into the general population, just like Facebook did, and before it, Napster. And then copyright will be truly finished forever.

  8. Marian Hebb

    Mr Booth,
    How strange that you think copying is a natural right! Before you can copy a novel, play, poem or essay, someone must write it and surely that author is entitled to respect and compensation for that work which others enjoy or benefit from. You are also wrong to think that the difference between the cost of printing a book and what you pay for it goes to the author alone. The author usually receives only about 10% of the price of a print book, with the rest going to the bookseller, distributor, and publisher who in turn pays editors, designers, the printer and others involved in the production of the book.
    But most troubling about your comments is that you seem unaware that Canadian universities have been paying a few dollars each year for each of its students as part of a licence fee for the university community, so that students are able to make copies of copyright work at the university photocopiers without having to contact individual authors or publishers each time to ask for permission. This allows immediate copying of entire articles, poems, short stories and plays and parts of novels and non-fiction works (though not copying “whole” books). The sign on the photocopier explains this and this is its main purpose. As long as universities continue to pay for licences for photocopying and in future for digital copying, they are ensuring that their students will not be infringing copyright if those students respect a few rules about what and how much can be copied under the licence from the collective society or under the Copyright Act. This also means that authors can continue to be be paid an annual fee by their collective society for all copying of their works – not just in universities – a payment which last year averaged about $440. Right now universities are telling the Government that they want a new exemption from copyright (“fair dealing” for the purpose of education) so that they will have to pay even less for the copying done by their students and teachers. As Ms. Atwood has made plain in her remarks to the Legislative Committee and to you, how can this proposed saving for the universities and other educators at the expense of authors ever be considered “fair”?

    • Replying to the lawyer in this discussion. Will throw some ideas out to discuss, rather than trying to do a direct response.

      I believe we are each talking about very different things.

      Adding the word “education” to Section 29 of the act is very different than the convoluted things proposed to be added to Section 30 by Bill C-32. As I suggest in my own submissions, I agree with the addition to Section 29 (even if I wish for more simplified and clarified language), but disagree with the additions to section 30.

      If we can separate the Fair Dealings (Wish the term Fair Use were used, to avoid the language problem Ms. Atwood discussed in her testimony) from the institutional exceptions, that would be great.

      I disagree about the alleged harm from the Fair Dealings modification of adding the word “education” (or preferably something more clear). I blogged about what I consider to be the marketplace dynamics at play behind that part of the debate back in November.

      I realize that there are people here that believe that collective licensing (sometimes compulsory proposed) solves all problems, but I consider that to be as incorrect as those on the other extreme of the debate that believe that institutional exceptions solve everything. I am not picking sides on that debate, but suggesting I disagree with both extremes.

      On institutional exceptions (section 30 stuff), I agree with Ms. Atwood an others on the policy side. As I said in my submission, “I consider education institutional exceptions to copyright to be a government program, paid for on the backs of copyright holders, masquerading as copyright.”

      Where I will continue to disagree is what I consider to be harmful language and tone used in this debate. Infringement, limitations and exceptions to copyright are not “theft”. In this case Ms. Atwood wasn’t even talking about infringement, but the discussion of a potential exception to copyright.

      The more this type of language is used, the more division there will be between people who might otherwise be on the same side of a discussion. I know Ms. Atwood gave a number of different terms for this alleged “taking”, but I disagree with all 4 as well as the idea that there is any “taking”. Changes in the contours of copyright may or may not increase or decrease the value of the copyright to specific owner, but it doesn’t change who owns the copyright.

      We need to turn to discussing how changes in the contours of copyright may increase or decrease the revenues for a specific creator as well as creators as a whole. It is overly simplistic to suggest that “more copyright” means more value to creators. If a change to copyright happens to enrich a new creator over a past creator (such as with parody and satire being added), this is not “theft” any more than the lack of such an exception can be claimed to have been “theft” from the younger creator.

      The copyright debate is not just happening in committees between people who live in the copyright reform bubble. It is happening in the court of public opinion.

      When people hear a well known author saying limits or exceptions to copyright are “1. Theft. 2. Expropriation, which does however include some payment. 3. Confiscation, as from criminals. 4. Requisition, as in a war”, this reduces the respectability of copyright.

      These discussions don’t differentiate the wide variety of instances of infringements, limitations or exceptions. Some of these scenarios are clearly a case of copyright over-reaching into places it shouldn’t be regulating, and others are clear cases where nearly everyone in Canada believes is a wrong and should have harsh remedies. There is a lot of gray area in between which we need to be able to civilly discuss.

      Not differentiating harms the respectability of copyright, and induces people outside our “copyright reform bubble” to infringe and excuse the infringement of others.

  9. It always amazes me the logical contortions some go through to blame the victim and excuse the victimizer when it comes to copyright.

    If authors don’t give up long-held rights they will themselves break copyright forever? Mr. Booth, how do you get out of your house in the morning without worrying about the damage you do to your own door by locking it? After all, if you didn’t bother locking it, a potential thief would not have to break it to get in.

    Ms. Hebb and Ms. Atwood have answered thoroughly. I’ll add only one thing. The argument used for reducing copyright costs to educational institutions is that costs to the poor student are currently too high. I’ve done the math — — one large Canadian university could pay the Access Copyright license for all of its students with 0.2% of its annual budget. Are we really to believe that a 0.2% savings will be passed on to students should licensing be weakened or disappear?

    Tuition is not going down anytime soon, whether licensing exists or not. All that will change with an unamended C-32 is that authors, illustrators and publishers of Canadian works will have fewer resources with which to create.

  10. Dear Margaret,
    Thank you for making your case on maintaining copyrights for university use.
    Also saw a U Tube video on the Internet, the Publishing Pie, very funny and great information for a beginning author.
    I am looking forward to your new novel and am reminded of Doris Lessing who later in life started writing more futuristic oriented works. I read all of hers, intriguing.

  11. toby the glover

    We account for authors by pricing their products–books–and paying them according to the law of supply and demand. The author herself is deemed worthless without her several products.

    Instead, we should say that the author is not a womanufacturer of a product, but rather a provider of service, a beneficial educator, as you say. Then we can provide the author with an income both normal and secure.

    Unfortunately, under our system of economic exploitation, beneficial authors are less valuable than expert financial advisors. Legally, they haven’t been invented yet. So authors cannot justify themselves before judges who are ignorant of such matters. That is a constitutional impossibility.

    Money is intellectual property but ideas are not always so vulgar.

  12. Pingback: Publishing at the polls: Copyright reform | Quillblog | Quill & Quire

  13. In 1978, as a student in a Canadian university, my professors handed me a list of books to buy as part of getting an undergraduate degree in English. “Surfacing” by Margaret Atwood was on the list. I have still have the very copy today alongside other Atwood books I later purchased and enjoyed. These books, among others, are now on the shelves in my professor’s office at an American university. I do not teach English but rather technology — blogging, marketing, website design, promotions and such. Even recently, I urge my students to listen to Margaret Atwood’s most excellent speech found online through IT Conversations Network. I do talk with my students about Canadian authors — Atwood a primary one to note — and how reading a few Canadian authors in their very American life will enrich their outlook.

    In fact, I urge them to buy the book. It is the sensible thing to do.

    “Reducing copyright costs”? Good grief. Whatever happened to expecting students to obtain materials needed for learning — acknowledging the responsibility, rights and costs of doing so. Doesn’t it make them far more realistic when they leave the university?

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