the Periodical Writers Association of Canada
By Guenther Krueger
Copyright law, like what exactly goes into sausages, is one of
those things we don't really want to know too much about. It's probably
boring, has little to do with me, and in the end, isn't it just
corporations getting more money than they deserve? Answer: yes,
no, sometimes. It's always difficult to jump into the minefield
of who owns what, who should pay for reproduction rights, and just
exactly how does the law interpret these things anyway?
Like many things in 2004, from marriage to spam to global warming,
the situation regarding copyright is in flux. As photocopying is
replaced by scanning, and digital is becoming the norm, who is free
to do what is a murky business. The Canadian Copyright Act
, blueprint for all these activities, is in the process of being
revised, but the law is one thing, social forces another. And rather
than give you a comprehensive overview of the law (for that, I highly
recommend the Online Copyright Law Course provided by Access
Copyright) I'll explain a bit about the social forces that are polarizing
debate on the issues.
What do you believe about copyright? Is it an inherent right in
which creators can legally protect their hard-earned and often underpaid
efforts? Or is it an erosion of democracy and a drain on culture
where every time you want to use something-anything-created, you
must first ask permission and then pay for it? These are not simple
questions. Courts wrestle with them just as you might. It's confusing
to think that travel writers submitting a piece to a national newspaper
are paid a pittance only to see their work go on-line and read in
Baku and Mombasa, while Time Warner Inc. and Bertelsmann discuss
mergers and deals that stagger the imagination. Who is getting what?
Is it deserved?
It's enough to make you throw up your hands and leave it to the
federal government. That would be nice, but they're looking for
feedback too. As a board member of Access Copyright, The Canadian
Copyright Licensing Agency, a freelance writer, and a creator myself,
I know where I stand. I want copyright protection for my work, I
want Access Copyright to collect money on my behalf, and I'd like
to be paid for the secondary use of my work, yes every time. But
of course that's not a universally shared belief.
Copyright is part of a larger body of law dealing with intellectual
property. In an increasingly global environment, interpretations
are no longer purely domestic, but increasingly international. As
technology changes, so do contexts. So we now have to define a work
and an author and increasingly we must determine what is "public"
and how much protection to afford, both here and throughout the
world in an on-line environment.
As the world goes digital, a number of problems are emerging that
will be included in upcoming legislation. These include the question
of whether the Act should be amended to give rights holders an exclusive
right to make their copyright material available on-line on an on
demand basis; whether the Act should be amended to prohibit tampering
with rights management information that is normally used to identify
works; whether sanctions should be provided for those who circumvent
technological protection measures; and finally, whether Internet
Service Providers (ISP's) should be liable for copyright violations.
Creators like myself have a visceral feeling when we see our work
copied illegally, mis-used out of context, or even plagiarized.
We don't like it and we seek retribution. But educators and many
business people have quite a different world view. The so-called
Copy Left movement thinks that the public domain where works are
freely available is an important part of cultural activity. Many
educators in Canada believe that works should be available to all
students to use as they wish. Some even argue that all creations
are just recycled ideas, since there is really nothing new under
While the arguments continue, there are some things you can do.
First of all, think about where you stand. Then if you're not sure,
read a bit. Familiarize yourself with the work of Access Copyright
or Copibec. Take the on-line course. Access Copyright not only collects
money and distributes it back to creators and publishers, but it
also takes a strong stand on all things copyright, whether it's
influencing legislators or closing down illegal copyshops. Of course,
if you are firmly planted in the Copy Left camp, you might not agree
with everything that this non-profit organization undertakes. But
most people in that group who dismiss copyright initiatives and
licensing are usually not informed. They have vague ideas about
who gets what and reductionist theories that are overly simplistic.
I think the more you understand, the more you will agree that a
balanced approach is possible.
Copyright is about equity and fairness. But it's also about how
we feel about culture in Canada. If we underpay writers initially
and then add insult to injury by taking their work and distributing
it in lucrative databases, can we expect to read top-quality work
and have a lively and articulate exchange of ideas in print? Of
In the end, it's not really about whether business is hampered
with expensive and cumbersome rules and regulations or whether an
individual writer is paid a few pennies every time something is
copied. It's about supporting those organizations that are working
hard to balance everyone's needs and interests. Access Copyright,
like our democratic system itself, is far from perfect, sometimes
quite messy and rancorous. But it's a useful structure, an organization
where all voices are heard. Like copyright itself, it's a work in
Guenther Krueger is a member of the Periodical Writers Association
of Canada and also a member of the Board of Directors for Access
For more information about the Periodical Writers Association
of Canada, please see their listing in this issue of Sources.
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Street, Suite 201, Toronto, ON M6G 1L9.
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