Tony Burman from Al Jazeera English was talking at Media Democracy Day down at the Vancouver Public Library this afternoon, but after his keynote address (see my very scrappy notes) I skipped out on listening to a panel discuss the spread of Fox News style media up north and went to a panel on Copyright. After the copyright session I also went to Engaging the Resistant: Achieving Change Through Documentary and Journalism put on by Pacific Cinematheque, but it wasn’t at all what I wanted out of a session so I won’t be talking any more about it (they seemed like a neat group, just ran a session I didn’t really enjoy).
But yes, the copyright session was really interesting, and library related. There was Geof Glass – a communications PhD from SFU who specializes in the online commons, Hart Snider – a video remix artist and Martha Rans – a copyright lawyer who works with artist collectives and Creative Commons Canada.
Glass spoke about the asymmetric access to culture we have when information is owned by monopolistic companies. He talked about StarCraft II player-designed maps which now get transferred to the ownership of Blizzard, which gets to benefit monetarily from what its users are making. He talked about selling the Hockey Night in Canada theme song for millions of dollars and how it wasn’t worth that much money until people had invested parts of themselves in it. His big thing was about participation in culture and how important it is to do and not just witness.
Snider talked about the path he’s taken as a video artist and how illegal his sampling work is. He talked about how bill C-32 says that you can’t damage the integrity of what you’re sampling, but “artists have the right to say what they want.” He sort of struck me as a bit out of touch, or selfish in his concern about only what he was allowed to do, instead of caring about the wider society (or just getting on with doing his own thing). The best story was how the CBC’s lawyers had to spend 8 months trying to figure out how to show one of his videos on Zed. They eventually did by changing the show from an Entertainment show to a News show for one night. Because News shows don’t have to worry about copyright in the same way, as they’re commenting on the things that are happening.
Martha Rans talked about how as a culture we need to value artists, and that our energy would best be spent fighting cuts to the arts from government. She talked about what a lousy law C-32 was in its vagueness and it just screaming for litigation to get things sorted. That gives a big hammer to corporations, yes, but it doesn’t really deal with artists getting enough money for food and rent. She called out the media for its fearmongering about the bill by talking piracy and not separating artists and publishing corporations. She also said that Copyright Criminals was a much better documentary on copyright and culture than Rip! A Remix Manifesto because it didn’t ignore the fact that it was only through the traditional system of copyright and royalty payments that african-american artists could legally fight their way to getting paid instead of being ripped off blind by white artists and corporations. Really interesting stuff.
The easiest way to be able to do what you want to do as an artist and not worry about the law, she said (after prefacing it with saying this was not legal advice), was to not own a home or have anything for anyone to sue you for. I like that as a strategy. She also talked about how librarians have to speak up and fight for arts groups as we’re the people in charge of preserving all this culture and our silence on these issues is terrible. She told us that since our institutions are risk averse, academics need to develop backbones and stand up to commercial interests themselves.
There were a few interesting questions from the audience and a lot of anecdotes about how artists really are at the bottom of the list of who gets paid by the big publishing corporations. One guy asking about why Glass was so down on the Apple iOS store, since didn’t the Android Market provide a competitive market for people who didn’t want to play in authorized Appleland didn’t really get his question answered, which was kind of crappy. The moderator wasn’t very good at handling the crowd, but whatever.
I’m realizing that copyright is something I’m interested in. That’s what this first semester of school has been good for, giving me an idea which of these topics I actually care about and which leave me cold. Copyright gets me fired up. Bizarrely enough, cataloguing does too. Who knew?