Today Mon Tue
It is forcast to be Partly Cloudy at 11:00 PM EDT on April 20, 2014
Partly Cloudy
13°/5°
It is forcast to be Chance of Rain at 11:00 PM EDT on April 21, 2014
Chance of Rain
19°/8°
It is forcast to be Chance of Rain at 11:00 PM EDT on April 22, 2014
Chance of Rain
16°/3°

28 Comments

news

Is Copyright Bill C-32 Being Astroturfed?


Early last week, we wrote a post that offered both some information and perspective about Bill C-32, which, if passed, is slated to revamp Canada’s copyright law.
As with any contentious issue, the post generated a good number of comments. Yet, as the days went on, it became apparent that some of the pro–Bill C-32 comments were unusually uniform and very…(how do we put this?) “on message.”
Now, we have learned, it seems possible that the comments were a result of an astroturfing campaign.


On his blog, law professor Michael Geist points to a site that bills itself as Balanced Copyright Reform. The gist, according to Geist:

The heart of the site (which requires full registration) is a daily action item page that encourages users to “make a difference, everyday.” [Each] list of ten items is a mix of suggested tweets, blog comments, and newspaper article feedback. Each item includes instructions for what should be done and quick links to the target site.

As of June 17, the last of the daily action items was “Comment on Torontoist article on Bill C-32.”
To be clear, we don’t know that the comments in our earlier piece came from the astroturfing site. Just as importantly, even if the comments here and elsewhere were instigated by a lobby group, it doesn’t negate the points that they made. A clear legal framework that provides an economic and structural incentive for artists to both create and promote their work is an absolute necessity.
Still, it’s worrisome that many Bill C-32 proponents—such as those in the comments on our piece—seem intent on preserving a business model in which the artist produces an object that a consumer then acquires in exchange for money. That may seem obvious, even axiomatic, to some, but it betrays an obliviousness to a cultural sea-change in how people relate to and conceive of art.
While, years ago, you might have had to buy a CD to satiate a craving for Katy Perry’s latest track, you can now watch it to your heart’s content on YouTube, stream it on legal sites like Grooveshark or Blip.fm, or just throw down a buck and buy it on iTunes. To argue that everything would return to normal if only illegal downloading would stop is to miss that piracy has only been one part of the equation of how media businesses are changing. After all, people aren’t pirating newspapers—and their business model has been equally affected by the web.
There are no easy answers as to how to incentivize creativity and art, facets of life which are undeniably crucial for the health of a society. But it seems a fair bet that attempting to stem the tidal wave of cultural change engendered by the Internet is to fight a losing battle against modernity. And while many aspects of Bill C-32 are forward-thinking in this respect, others—such as the illegality of tools with which to break digital locks—seem to upset the balance between creators’ and consumers’ rights.
Hopefully, the opposing groups can reach some form of consensus before the current version of the bill becomes law.

Comments

  • rek

    “…intent on preserving a business model in which the artist produces an object that a consumer then acquires in exchange for money…”
    If only. The entertainment industry seems intent on doing away with the entire notion that the mere exchange of money for something makes you the owner of it. Between software EULAs, movie and music DRM schemes that rely on proprietary formats and 24/7 access to validation servers, PVR flags that disable commercial skipping and time shifting, remote-disable/recall (as seen recently with the Kindle), and various promises of time-restricted physical formats, the fundamental notion of property is under attack — one failed attempt at a time.
    (And none of it will do anything to stop piracy.)
    We wouldn’t tolerate this from any other industry, but for some reason the entertainment (and software) industries just have to wave the Culture flag and all is forgiven?

  • http://undefined teamq

    “Still, it’s worrisome that many Bill C-32 proponents—such as those in the comments on our piece—seem intent on preserving a business model in which the artist produces an object that a consumer then acquires in exchange for money”
    Um, isn’t that how business works? Why shouldn’t an artist have the right to choose how to distribute their content?

  • http://undefined torontothegreat

    Nice Red Herring. The artist is NEVER allowed to choose how to distribute their content, that is the role of the record label and record distributor.
    I have several friends in bands in Canada. The record labels have really f’d themselves this time. This is merely giving rise to indie labels as well as artists doing DIY distribution through iTunes and other sources. In essense, the more the recording industry cries foul, the quicker the landscape changes for independant artists for the better. There is no fence up anymore, the artists are making good money selling merch and music and we’re exposed to thousands of different bands we may have been kept from previously as record labels wouldn’t deem them worthy of signing.

  • http://www.sellpropertyquickly.co.uk/ Liza

    I believe that it will still undergo a lot of discussion (just like what we are doing) and series of analysis before it becomes a law.

  • http://undefined dob467

    Keep in mind that if we find out that website is in fact run by the big music labels and movie studios, they don’t represent artists. They represent big business. Groups like AFM and ACTRA who DO represent artists in Canada are also opposed to Bill C-32 because it won’t help artists themselves. See here http://www.actra.ca/actra/control/feature42?menu_id=4 & here http://www.afmcanada.org/news/proposed-copyright-law-fails-canadian-artists

  • http://undefined rek

    You keep saying “artist” when you mean rights owner and marketing manager and record label executive.
    You might as well be saying actors decide cinema ticket prices and release dates; it’s just as divorced from reality.

  • http://undefined spacejack

    Not to mention how much more responsibility for marketing, image & business has been shifted on to the artists. Whenever I read a band interview these days, half the time they’re talking more about business than music. How many times have I heard that it helped the band get signed by doing as much of this stuff themselves as they can.
    But isn’t a record label supposed to free the artists from those mundane tasks? You’ve got to think the music is going to suffer. Or at the very least that the labels are making themselves redundant.

  • http://undefined deadrobot

    BoingBoing reported on this site a few days back
    http://www.boingboing.net/2010/06/16/us-record-labels-sta.html

  • http://undefined torontothegreat

    Perhaps pre-90s, you would have a point here, but in today’s day and age, an artist should be 100% aware of how these “mundane” task work. Truely successful artists, understand the business side as much as the creative side, how is empowerment a bad thing?
    more responsibility for marketing, image & business
    You can’t ignore something like Facebook or Twitter, it gives artists a captive audience that they would have previously had to be “owned” by a label to reach. It also gives opportunity to others such as photographers and bloggers to help spread the word. It creates community and that is something that has been lacking in most music scenes for a while now.
    How many times have I heard that it helped the band get signed by doing as much of this stuff themselves as they can.
    Or not. Getting signed is already a crap shoot at best and A&Rs aren’t a good benchmark, it breeds pseudo artists like Miley Cyrus.
    Further Reading: Google, Immortal Technique.

  • http://undefined torontothegreat

    Just as a further aside, most record labels actually OWN the content produced by artists. This is usually how getting signed works. There have been only a few artists who actually OWN the masters and the distribution rights to their OWN content.
    Crue (bless their heart) is one of the lucky few to make it out alive:
    “In 1998, Mötley Crüe’s contractual ties with Elektra Records had expired, putting the band in total control of their future. This included the ownership of the masters of all of their albums. In announcing the end of their relationship with Elektra Records, the band became one of the few groups in history to own and control their publishing and catalogue of recorded masters. In 1999, the band re-released all their albums, dubbed as Crücial Crüe. The limited-edition digital re-masters included demos, live, instrumental, and previously unreleased tracks”

  • http://www.laconicreply.com static416

    I’d step up the paranoia another notch and say that the DRM provisions in the law may have been a bluff to get more dramatic measure incorporated in compensation for weakening DRM.
    Corporate media knows that DRM is a failed experiment, and protecting it in law has, in practice, no effect on infringement. However, by including it, they may be able to scare us into accepting portions of three strikes or ISP liability in return for making the DRM portions more fair.
    Micheal Giest recently posted on the unanimous opposition to digital locks. http://www.michaelgeist.ca/content/view/5128/125/
    But he glossed over that all parties are proposing more strict legal changes to compensate.
    That would be very very bad. I’d take DRM protection over three strikes, ISP liability, or an $75 iPod levy any day.

  • http://undefined mjnr

    To argue that everything would return to normal if only illegal downloading would stop is to miss that piracy has only been one part of the equation of how media businesses are changing. After all, people aren’t pirating newspapers—and their business model has been equally affected by the web.

    Actually pirating of newspapers is EXACTLY what is happening if you believe some newspaper owner’s like Mr. Rupert Murdoch. In fact the accusation is that people are using Google News to get a pay product for free. Hence his request to have his papers pulled from Google News and the installation of a paywall to stop “unauthorized” access.
    I would argue its the exact same scenario…. in fact just replace “Google News” in the sentence above with “Torrents” or “Limewire” and “a paywall” with “DRM” or “digital locks”

  • http://undefined Gavin

    mjnr,
    Do keep in mind that Rubert Murdoch has issued no such request to Google News. Google News respects robots.txt files, and he could set one up on his websites, and they’d be out of Google News shortly. His companies have not done that; he just goes around SAYING he’d like to do that. Que’ll difference!

  • rek

    If Murdoch doesn’t want his papers’ content appearing in Google News, he should shut down their free-to-access websites. All Google News does, essentially, is RSSify them and link people to the (online, freely accessible) articles on the papers’ own sites. (I think wire service articles are treated differently, but those aren’t owned by individual papers.)
    And as a Torontonian, do you think I’m going to get a subscription to a newspaper in Melbourne or London or Singapore? No. But as an online reader, I’ll be directed to their sites, and potentially see and click their irritating little ads and generate revenue for them that way.

  • http://undefined Gavin

    rek,
    You don’t have to shutdown a free website to stay out of Google News. You can put a robots.txt file which will stop News, or Search from any number of indexing systems from seeing your website, but will still let the public go to it. Murdoch isn’t facing an either/or choice here, but he noticeably has not excluded Google News, even though technically that’s extremely easy to do.

  • http://undefined 74Vespa

    @torontothegreat – “the artists are making good money selling merch and music”
    Wow, so not true. I have countless friends in bands and while they do make money on merch and music, it’s not what I’d call “good”, and it’s less than they used to make.
    Sadly more innuendo and bashing of ‘record labels’ that doesn’t really have much to do with the issue of Bill C-32. You don’t like record companies – woo-hoo! Good for you. Yawn. I used to fight with them too – many actions in their past are unpleasant, but at least they are trying to build new businesses – going DRM-free, etc.
    And @Rek – the artists I know DO have a say in how their content is distributed, not the labels or ‘execs’. It’s a partnership. I guess you’ve just never talked to anyone who has worked at or with a major label, which is too bad – you might have a more balanced view of the facts and the issues at hand.

  • http://undefined 74Vespa

    I also love the inaccruacy of the BoingBoing (and other) article that says this is led by “US record labels”. Fact-check much? Umm, only 1 of the 4 big music companies is American. 1 is British, 1 is French, 1 is Japanese…

  • http://undefined rek

    “…but at least they are trying to build new businesses…”
    How? And how is that relevant to the state of copyright in Canada?
    “…the artists I know DO have a say in how their content is distributed, not the labels or ‘execs’. It’s a partnership.”
    Labels have no say? What sort of say do artists have? Be specific. Name names. Give examples.
    “…you might have a more balanced view of the facts and the issues at hand.”
    Failing to take into account the boardroom origins of Bill C-32 (and its predecessors) and claiming to represent the interests and voice of the actual artists is hardly a ‘balanced view’.

  • http://undefined spacejack

    Well in retrospect… it probably wasn’t my greatest comment ever.

  • http://undefined Snuggles

    Pedantic much?
    The fact that these companies are not headquartered in the United States does not preclude them from having an enormous stake in the US media market, which is what is meant by calling them “US record labels”.

  • http://undefined torontothegreat

    I feel like I shouldn’t respond to your post, because you’re not being transparent, however I digress:
    I have countless friends in bands and while they do make money on merch and music, it’s not what I’d call “good” and it’s less than they used to make.
    the artists I know DO have a say in how their content is distributed, not the labels or ‘execs’. It’s a partnership
    Maybe the artists you know should talk to their “partners” if they are not making “good” money anymore. Maybe they can negotiate more than .25 cents per CD sale :P
    hrmmm… What labels are we talking about here? Major? Indie? Sounds like you’re talking about indie labels, which means you’re entirely misunderstanding my point…

  • http://undefined Andrew

    Genunie, non-snarky question here. Of those of you who want major changes in the new copyright bill, how many make your living by producing copyrightable content?

  • rek

    They could all be Peruvian, either way they’re foreign-owned companies feigning concern for Canadian culture.

  • http://undefined rek

    I’m a graphic designer. While technically there are copyrights in effect, as least I think there are, there seems to be no expectation of rights in this industry.

  • http://undefined torontothegreat

    I create OpenSource software, which also has certain restrictions depending on the license agreement. MIT vs Creative Commons vs Gnu.

  • http://undefined rek

    There’s that too, but my point was that all of these articles are online for free, legally. Google isn’t stealing them, pirating them, selling copies of them, printing its own newspaper with their articles, etc.

  • http://undefined mjnr

    Actually what I believe he’s done is actually implemented paywalls for the London Times. Requiring a login is the other way to block Google / search engines =)
    http://www.businessweek.com/news/2010-06-17/murdoch-offers-freebies-in-pursuit-of-paywall-readers-update1-.html

  • http://undefined rek

    Geist is reporting that users of the astroturf site are now required to send a form letter, which they can’t modify, to their MPs.