Saturday, October 10, 2015

The federal election, partisanship, and copyright.

Advance polls are open for Canada's 42'nd general election.  Having been actively involved in previous elections I have been asked for my opinion about who they should vote for for those of us who consider authors' rights important.  I have spent a large portion of my life dedicated to this area of policy, especially between 2001 and 2012, meeting with sitting members of federal parliament, other politicians and other policy makers.

One thing I have observed is that while there is partisanship, it does not follow along political party lines.  It isn't possible for me to recommend any specific candidate based on their political party or the platform of a party, and you need to talk to the candidates to determine their partisanship.

As a creators' rights activist I don't concern myself with those few I have met over the years who oppose copyright.   The most important ideological separation is within those who strongly believe that creators have a right to moral and material rewards from their creativity, but that strongly disagree with each other in how to achieve that goal.

The simplest way to explain the difference is to call is orthodox vs evidence based policy making.

Orthodox Copyright

People who adhere to this belief system will agree with statements like, "if some copyright is good, more must be better".   They believe that increasing the breadth, strength and length of copyright will automatically increase the material and moral rewards to creators.

Superficially this is a very easy sell, and lends itself to easy soundbites and trivial analysis: No matter what the policy change is they can simply see if "copyright" is increasing and they can automatically come out in favor of it.   Even if something unrelated to copyright is called "copyright" they will also automatically come out in favor of it, regardless of any impact to creators.

Evidence-based Copyright

People who adhere to this belief system will agree with statements like,"Copyright is to creativity like water is to humans: too little and you dehydrate and die, too much and you drown and die".  They require economic and other analysis to determine the impact on creators of specific policy changes. They will recognize that one copyright holders interests are often in conflict with the rights of authors, and recognize that some policy changes can even be a transfer of rights from one copyright holding group to another.  They consider the idea that "more is better" to be naive at best, given specific policy changes which increase the breadth, strength and length of copyright have been well proven to decrease the material and moral rewards to authors.

This group has a much harder sell as it requires economic study and understanding of business, economics, and other disciplines which authors tend to want to let someone else worry about. Soundbites are rare, and even the simplest of policy changes require considerable understanding of market trends to understand the impact to authors.

Examples of copyright partisanship in federal political parties

The NDP offer the best example of how important the individual members of parliament are, more than what their party affiliation is.

From 2001 to 2004 the NDP Heritage Critic, and he person most involved in Copyright policy, was Wendy Lil.  She was a journalist, playwright, and writer who was extremely orthodox in her copyright views.  She showed no interest in discussing the economic and other analysis of policy proposals brought to her by fellow creators, but instead promoted policies which would have "grown" copyright in ways that would hurt most creators.

Ms. Lill retired and did not run in the 2004 election. Newly elected independent writer, broadcaster and musician Charlie Angus became the critic for copyright. He sat on the Heritage, C-32 and later C-11 committees.  Mr. Angus is an evidence-based copyright activist who closely listened to those of us who wanted to talk about economic analysis to benefit creators rather than only listening to or slinging harmful slogans.

As the NDP caucus grew after the last election the diversity grew.  There is a mixture of orthodox and evidence-based members, and I suspect there are some pretty interesting behind-the-scenes debates when policies impacting creators come up.

There is one external dynamic which impacts the NDP more than the other parties, and that is problems within many of the unions which allege to work in the interests of authors.  The executives of these unions have predominantly been made up of some of the more aggressive slogan-slinging orthodox adherents. While their easy sound bites make running for elections within the unions easier as they don't need to explain their positions, it has meant that most of these associations have been publicly advocating for policies which the evidence-based creators' rights activists believe are harmful.

The NDP as a party has long-standing ties with the labour movement, so when someone claiming to represent the interests of professional writers or from an authors union offers their partisan views they may blindly trust those views if they weren't already aware of the wider set of views in the creators' rights movement.

While the NDP is the best example given the complete flip that happened after the 2004 election, the same dynamic exists in the other parties.  I met with MPs from the other federal parties who were looking for economic analysis of policy proposals, and those who blindly trusted the slogans.

About the only party I had only a negative experience with was the Bloc who never showed interest in meeting with anyone living outside of Quebec.  The only MP from the Bloc I interacted much with was naive orthodox Carole Lavall√©e who treated me as a hostile witness in the C-32 legislative committee.  I was trying to understand her "when have you stopped beating your wife" style of questioning through the simultaneous translator, but it was obvious that she has no interest in the evidence that various creators' rights advocates were bringing.  Fortunately the influence of the Bloc is dwindling, and it is even possible (crossing fingers) that this election may see them fade away entirely.

Exception to the general rule: Harper

Even if you find a great evidence-based policy person running for the "Conservative" party in your riding it won't likely matter.   Harper, not being a traditional conservative at all, likes to abuse the big hand of government to pick winners and losers in the marketplace.   While the copyright part of Bill C-11 was fairly balanced (the non-copyright part weren't), that balance has effectively been removed by Harper later.   He reduced the revenue of music composers by increasing the term of copyright for record labels as part of an omnibus budget, and he deputized Ed Fast to play Fast-and-loose with Canadian law and our economy in the Trans-Pacific Partnership in ways that will greatly harm authors (as well as most other Canadians in an agreement that will only increase Canada's trade/fiscal deficits and kill jobs).

As long as Harper retains tight control over the "united alternative" they remain a caucus of people whose leadership is not only uninterested but actively hostile towards evidence required to make good policy decisions.


See also: What will the future hold? Post your thoughts on the election!, written in 2006 during the 39th general election.

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