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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.

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