Friday, July 2, 2010

Traditional definitions in the copyright debate.

On social issues I consider myself a pretty liberal parson, and am OK with people being whoever they want to be. My limits come when those activities harm others: your right to swing your cane ends at my nose, and all that.

After being told I represented the "copyleft" so often by folks associated with Access Copyright, I decided to do some thinking (and writing) on that. Far from being a redefinition of an existing term, it is a new term that turns out to be useful for understanding some of the conflicts between creators in the copyright debate.

One thing I get frustrated with, however, is when people abuse language by redefining terms to fit their temporary purposes. There are terms that are very heavily loaded that should be used in their dictionary meaning, or not at all. One of those terms that is all too loosely abused is calling people anti-Semitic, often levelled at people who think the country of Israel should be treated as and critiqued like any other, and who ignore the non-secular nature of that country.

During the G20 protests I ended up hearing another abuse, but not from someone associated with those protests. John Degen discovered after many months he had been barred from the Fair Copyright for Canada (York Region Chapter) by the administrator for that forum, Independent Journalist Jason Koblovsky.

To try to rally the troops for those who support his particular political philosophy (See the "copy left" discussion and you'll see John represents a conservative creators' rights philosophy), John started to make up a fiction that he had been censored.

I'm getting used to disagreeing with John on policy, and we each seem to believe that the policies that the other one is promoting is harmful to the interests of professional creators. I could not, however, abide by his abuse of the term "censorship" to refer to the manager of a forum not allowing him to participate in that managers forum. While free speech demands that people have a right to say what they want to say, within some limits (such as defamation/etc), there is no right to say this wherever you want. The managers of discussions forums are within their right to manage membership in their forums any way they want, and they don't need to have a reason at all to disallow anyone from participating. In this case the manager even offered to let John back in if he wanted, with the request that John behave.

So, rather than behaving, John posts a few articles to his BLOG and tries to draw attention to government officials of his non-censorship.

Frist, he posts how fair is Fair? how balanced is Balanced?.

In this rant he includes some things I have said about him: "a non-techie who doesn’t understand software, a copyright maximalist," ... ", a “creator of the past,”"

These are of course taken out of context, and if put into context it would be hard for John to disagree.

The first is an observation: that while many of us in the debate have decades of technical experience, including as software authors, John is not one of them. That is not an insult, and in this observation he is in the majority of citizens who are not technical people who have spent the time to understand cryptography and other such technologies. Most people who don't understand something will find trusted experts to rely on. While I am clearly not trusted by John, I am an experienced professional in this area.

The second is also an observation, not an insult. I have heard John say many things over the years that essentially amount to: some copyright is good, so more must be better. Making copyright "stronger", meaning tilted more in favour of existing copyright holders, does not automatically help creators. Those who believe that stronger copyright is better copyright are quite accurately called "copyright maximalists". I'll let John decide if he wants to respond and say that he doesn't agree that "stronger copyright is better copyright", given this is the essence of the policies he has promoted over the years I have known him.

The third comment is in the context of Lawrence Lessig's s presentation from 2002 where he said:

  • Creativity and innovation always builds on the past.
  • The past always tries to control the creativity that builds upon it.
  • Free societies enable the future by limiting this power of the past.
  • Ours is less and less a free society.

If one looks at the policies that John promotes, it is clear that he's more focused on policies that would benefit existing copyright holders rather than those that would most benefit new copyright holders building on that past creativity. This is tied to the "copyright maximalist" observation, given more copyright favours existing copyright, while more creator-focused limitations and exceptions (fair dealings for follow-on creators) benefit the next generation of creators.

But, he wants to try to turn these observations of the different viewpoints in this political debate into insults: anyone who disagrees with his political philosophy are doing so not because they want to protect the rights of creators, but because they want to insult John.

As he tries to attack the credibility of Fair Copyright for Canada which includes a near full spectrum of creators and non-creators interests in copyright, he is also trying to promote the Balanced Copyright for Canada group that only represents a narrow potion of the conservative side of the copyright debate. (Please read Is there a copy left vs copy right?. I don't mean conservative in the same way as the Conservative party, or social conservative, or fiscal conservative. Conservatism in the copyright debate is a different thing).

So, we have one group that is bottom-up organised and includes the centrists and the left of the political debate, and another group that is top-down organised primarily by the incumbent record labels that represent the remaining minority political philosophy in copyright. And John, who seems to have self-identified himself with that far-right conservative copyright philosophy was removed from a forum because the manager thought he was part of a smear campaign against that larger set of constituencies (and Michael Geist in particular).

In the article John says, "Consumer advocate and occasional law professor, Michael Geist".

Mr Geist is a law professor who has a centrist creators' rights philosophy. He has gone out of his way to expand his educational roll beyond the classroom and into the general public, trying to educate people about current law and interpretations of proposed laws. He has been a great ally for creators in this debate.

While some adherents to conservative copyright views have rejected him as helping creators, I suspect a majority of fellow creators would disagree with that assessment. In fact, I consider John's usage of that language in his blog to be part of the smear campaign that John often claims he is not participating in.

Why was I not surprised that someone had barred John, or that people were concerned with his motives, given the language he uses to describe people who have different ideas than him on how to protect creators' rights?

The beginning started quite typical for our conversations recently: an accusation by John against others (sometimes Geist, sometimes myself, sometimes someone else entirely), and then my snide remark back. In this case it was Fair Copyright for Canada being attacked, a group that I support even if I'm not an active member (I'm not a big Facebook person, and rarely log on).

John: how fair is Fair Copyright? I've been kicked out of a populist copyright discussion group for defending artists 3:46 PM Jun 24th via web.

Me: @jkdegen We will continue to disagree that the policies you are promoting are a defence of the interests of artists.

John: @russellmcormond thanks for your support for my freedom of expression - sheesh

Me: @jkdegen Stating publicly that I disagree with your policies and your smere campaign against Geist doesn't harm your freedoms.

Things turned worse when John tried to claim that his being removed from a chapter forum was somehow censorship. He went further to use @mentions to cabinet ministers Moore and Clement about this fake censorship. Clearly ministers of the government had better things to do that weekend then be distracted by false accusations of censorship, especially since this was during the G8/G20 meetings.

There is no "blame the victim", as John was not a victim of anything. There was no censorship, and John is a very aggressive promoter of his political philosophy who can't claim he is a victim when people respond to his public comments and disagree with his political philosophy.

His interactions with creators' rights activists who have different political philosophies have been dismissive, largely suggesting that his political philosophy helps creators while everyone else is wrong. I've observed him many times partake in the "he who shall not be named" smear campaign against Michael Geist, along with fellow conservative creators.

When someone accused him of being unfriendly towards Fair Copyright for Canada participants, and being part of a smear campaign against Michael Geist, I didn't need to join yet another forum and read new examples of these themes . I had already seen them at Copycamp and other discussion forums for a few years now.

So, John aggressively promotes a political philosophy that creators in Fair Copyright for Canada disagree with, and then he feels he is a victim when people don't just let his views stand idly without comment.


When the above discussed rant didn't go as planned, John then added attack of the tweets - "Fairness" strikes back. I'm not sure what John's intent is here, but I feel the right to respond given he copied some of my tweets into the article.

@jkdegen I am blaming you for belittling the concept of #censorship by abusing the word! @FreeTheInternet @TonyClement_MP @mpjamesmoore

@jkdegen @jkoblovsky @TonyClement_MP @mpjamesmoore And even then you can't tell #censorship from a manager/proprietor asking you to leave?

@jkdegen As you continue to misuse the word #censorship , you only help clarify why you were removed from that forum by its Creator/manager.

Anyone with a dictionary (to look up the word "censorship") and the time to look at the times on the tweet streams will not agree with John's version of events in his blog article. After being as aggressive as he has been, he is now trying to get sympathy. I can only believe it is aimed at fellow conservatives, and is under the hope that they are true conservatives that won't look up the entire discussion and find out what other creators are saying.

I've been asked in private more than once why I still participate in conversations with John given we have so much we disagree with. I believe I learn more by communicating with people I disagree with than those I agree with. I don't want to be stuck in a bubble. Unlike other conservatives in the copyright debate who just like to broadcast their views one-way, John is quite willing to engage in pubic conversation. I have learned from and through him quite a bit about why I believe the things that I do. It is just unfortunate that I often learn what I believe will help Canadian creators by realising that I am disagreeing with John.

My having these conversations in public is also potentially helpful for other creators who hadn't yet thought about what type of political philosophy they subscribe to. They want policies that help creators, and may not have realised that there is not "one true way" to do this. They may also realise that some of the people who conservative creators claim are anti-copyright, "babyish" or "extremists" are in fact centrist or liberal creators' rights advocates who may better represent their views.

Side-note: An irony for those who read this blog. John Degen has been reading and posting quotes from Jaron Lanier's book: You are not a Gadget. Why am I not surprised John and Jaron share ideas? *smile*
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