Saturday, August 29, 2009

The interview the American Federation of Musicians doesn't like

Michael Geist reports: At a recent Town Hall Meeting on copyright reform held in Toronto, Olivia Chow, a Member of the Canadian Parliament and a participant at the meeting, attempted to distribute flyers containing an interview with Charlie Angus, another Member of Parliament. In the interview, Angus discusses his views on copyright reform. MP Chow reported that security at the meeting venue attempted to stop her from distributing the flyer. She doesn't say whether they succeeded. She must have distributed a few of the leaflets at least, though, since one fell into the hands of Alan Willaert, the Canadian representative of the American Federation of Musicians. Willaert then sent an email "to representatives of virtually every major Canadian creator group" in which he stated
I am shocked that both Chow and Charlie Angus are allowed to openly depart from party policy and directive, obviously just to shamelessly buy votes among young people and academics. We intend on taking the NDP [the political party of which Chow and Angus are members] to task over this, and will accept nothing less than a retraction of Ms Chow’s statements and an apology.
A quick glance at Angus's interview shows that it is quite moderate. To my great disappointment, Angus doesn't even call for a reduction in the copyright term! He merely states that the previously introduced copyright reform bill, C-61, was ill-drafted, that musical performers need to find new business models, that there needs to be a debate on private file-sharing, and that the U.S. DMCA is not a model to be followed helter-skelter by Canada. Yet the American Federation of Musicians thinks that Angus's moderate statements are inappropriate for a member of a political party that pledged support for "appropriate copyright protection." I think this confirms what I wrote in a previous post: those who have brought U.S. copyright law to its present state (and who wish to bring Canadian copyright law to a similar state) are not all reasonable people with whom one can reasonably disagree. They are, in the realm of the intellect, extremists. Reformers need to keep this in mind.

As a bonus, here is my wish-list for U.S. copyright reform. One wonders what the American Federation of Musicians would make of it:

1) Withdraw from the Berne Convention
2) Reduce the duration of copyright to 60 years maximum for published works. Shorter still would be even better.
3) If the term of copyright in published works is greater than 50 years, require formalities for the copyright to be fully effective beyond the 50th year. If the formalities are not complied with, the copyright would subsist for the full term, but remedies would be much reduced.
4) Repeal the DMCA's "device" and "circumvention" provisions.
5) Automatic termination of all assignments at fixed intervals.
6) Author's successors to be specified by statute. Possibly not even the author would be allowed to will the copyright to anyone else. This, together with the automatic termination, will prevent excessive fragmentation of rights and provide for easy identification of the rightsholder.
7) Provide for more generous margin of fair use. For example: (a) peer-to-peer computer file exchanges to be free, and (b) the judges' distinction between "satire" and "parody" is unworkable: both should be fair uses.
8) Scrap copyright in architectural works themselves. Blueprints will of course remain copyrightable.
9) Amend the law of trademark to focus more narrowly on graphical marks (no sounds.) Burden to be chiefly on mark-holders to inform the public to look for its mark and beware of imitations. Any publisher, for example, should be permitted to publish Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit in an edition of the same dimensions as the Warne editions. The public would need to take care to look for the Warne mark if it wanted Warne editions.


Ned C said...

Totally agree on all but private p2p and the convention; clearly the penalties now are excessive, but I'm not convinced that we can allow p2p without going all out and just declaring that copyright gives (only) commercial, and possibly derivative product creation, rights.

As for the Berne Convention, everything (I THINK including private copying) is allowable, and it would be very problematic to stop recognition of international copyright if we have copyright in any form at all. Keep in mind that even if Canada were to maintain international recognition, in all likely hood at least some countries would refuse to recognize Canadian. I just don't see the advantage to this; Berne makes copyright work at all, without it, it becomes completely meaningless.

Mockingbird said...

Freeing up non-commercial P2P need not mean that rightsholders derive no revenue from it. Niel Netanel has proposed a blanket levy charged on products and services that derive significant value from the exchange of files containing copyrighted matter. (Niel Netanel, Copyright's Paradox, Oxford, 2008, p. 208-210.) This isn't a perfect solution, but it seems less bad than the alternatives.

The U.S. didn't join the Berne Union until the late 1980s. Before that time, the Universal Copyright Convention provided a perfectly adequate basis for international copyright relations. But an alternative to withdrawing would be to re-negotiate some of its provisions, for example to allow for a shorter term (life+35 years, or life+25 years). The U.S. adherence to Berne is already highly qualified anyhow, with domestic legislation stating explicitly that the Berne convention is not self-executing in the U.S.