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.