Thursday, December 1, 2016

Creator groups must Focus On Creators

When the current Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly suggested that someone saying "Without culture, nobody would be on the internet" was thoughtful, and possibly even a new idea, I became aware that this is a area of policy that is new for Ms Joly.

We now see a new campaign aimed at the Minister called Focus On Creators launched by several associations which has a similar message the Minister may not have a context for.

While I am an author of software and non-software works, and in my policy analysis and activism I always have a Focus on Creators, I do not agree that all the groups who are promoting this campaign have that same focus.  All too often representatives of these groups claim the interests of some intermediary is synonymous with the interests of a group of creators, and are focused on that intermediary.

Technology giveth, and technology taketh away

It is normal technological and societal progress that new technology disrupts old technology, as well as the businesses and business models that formed around the older technology.

As new communications technology comes forward the creators that embrace it will succeed, and those who do not will tend to have diminishing audiences as well as diminishing financial success. When yet another communications technology comes forward to disrupt that technology, those who succeeded with the older communications technology either need to move forward or be as left behind as those who did not embrace the previous generation of technology.

From a public policy standpoint the most important thing to remember is that while technologies and the businesses that surround them will come and go, there is absolutely no reason for the interests of any specific technology provider to be thought of as synonymous with the interests of the cultural and content industries.

Opponents to the ongoing cycle of technological change

This cycle has been true since humans first started to write stories down.  There were those who thought storytelling would die if it was written down and not kept alive by storytellers passing it down from generation to generation.

There have been quite strong personalities that have been opposed to change.
"These talking machines are going to ruin the artistic development of music in this country. When I was a front of every house in the summer evenings, you would find young people together singing the songs of the day or old songs. Today you hear these infernal machines going night and day. We will not have a vocal cord left. The vocal cord will be eliminated by a process of evolution, as was the tail of man when he came from the ape."
  • Jack Valenti, longtime president of the Motion Picture Association of America, was also hostile to new technologies suggesting in 1982:
"I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone."
"So if you were to take this out of the context of an argument about film and television, I would make the case that what we're talking about here is industrial dumping. We have laws against stuff like this."

While Mr McGrath's words may be the most recent, what he is expressing is similar to what has been said throughout written history.  There is no reason for anyone to believe the current technological changes are all that different than what we have seen in the past: some creators who tie themselves to a specific previous generation technology (and the companies and business models that form around that technology) will have problems succeeding, and creators who embrace the new technology under its own terms (including related business model changes) will prosper.

I've interacted with Mr McGrath only a few times over the years (as he tries to quickly end conversations), but all evidence suggests that he confuses the interests of the creators of television with the interests of broadcasters.  Broadcasters are the companies that formed around a very specific type of distribution technology, and should not be seen as being part of the content creation or cultural industries. Mr. McGrath and some others in the "small screen" (Television) industry have gone so far as to suggest that anything that uses wired and wireless means of communicating small screen shows, whether that communication is programmed or not, should be regulated as if they were broadcasters.

I provided more details for this scenario in: Ad free CBC? Why not shift money to creators?
The shortform is that Netflix is not a broadcaster.  While this claim helps the interests of companies that are actually broadcasters, it harms the interests of creators of "small screen" shows.

Creator groups must Focus On Creators

In my participation in Copyright revision process starting in the summer of 2001 I have interacted with many fellow creators from a wide variety of creative sectors.  I have come to know many of the creator groups and their spokespersons. I have formed a good sense of which ones are helping members navigate change, and which ones have confused the interests of their members with the interests of specific intermediaries (technology providers, business model services, funding agencies, etc).

As a creator I can't sign on to this specific "Focus on Creators" campaign.  While I strongly believe that related government policy should focus on creators, I do not believe the groups behind this specific campaign are actually focused on the interests of creators.

Intermediaries sometimes barriers to creators getting paid

During the DigiCanCon consultations, many creators wanted to speak about funding.   I believe it is important for the Minister and the department to be aware of some of the barriers some intermediaries have been putting up to creators getting paid.

We are often told how copyright infringement is a cause of declining revenues for creators.  If we focus for a moment on scripted content for the big screen (Movies) and small screen (Television) we see a number of barrier put up by specific intermediaries which make it hard for audiences to access and pay for that access.

Video creativity is not the only creative sector where we see changes in technologies, and the related changes in business models, being claimed to be a threat to creators.
  • "Access Copyright activism disconnected from realities in educational publishing" discusses how some author activists, most notably specific individuals associated with the Writers Union and the Professional Writers Association of Canada, confuse the interests of Access Copyright with the interests of writers.  New technology has made direct licensing via online databases easier, as well as new peer production mechanisms possible, and the educational community is moving in that direction.  This only has an impact on fiction authors because of their ties with Access Copyright, with Access Copyright's primary money being an unrelated marketplace for non-fiction educational works that is being disrupted by modern technology.  The so-called "educational fair use" debate is largely about modern technology disrupting Access Copyright's older business services.

During the Bill C-32/C-11 consultations there was considerable discussion about the music industry.  In that case the interests of major labels were being confused with the very different interests of composers and performers.   The major labels were primarily a specialized banking sector formed around the high costs of the technology used to record and distribute music.  Technological advancement changed this business dynamic to where a successful industry flips the power dynamic to one where the interests of composers and performers must be the focus, and labels are only the "hired help" when and if needed by the musicians. In other words, a "Focus on Creators" is a focus on the interests of composers and performers, which are interests quite different from major labels whose interests often conflict with creators.  In Canada the major label interests are represented by "Music Canada", one of the groups behind this campaign.

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