Archive for the 'Intellectual property' Category

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Bill C-61: What you need to know

Bill C-61 is the Canadian government’s latest attempt to change the Copyright Act of Canada. The bill affects all Canadians which is why it’s very important that Canadians know about it and understand the parts that affect them. Here are some resources that I strongly encourage you to view:

In a nutshell, Bill C-61 will make many common and legitimate consumer activities, such as transferring a DVD to a video iPod or transferring a copy-protected CD to an MP3 player, illegal. For these reasons, you should contact your local Member of Parliament to express your concern. The best way to do this is in person, although mailing a letter (no postage required) is also an option. For some ideas, you may wish to read the Bill C-61 petition I wrote. You can also contact me for suggestions. The government will probably try to pass Bill C-61 soon after Parliament resumes on September 15 so it is imperative that you speak with your MP now.

An even greater threat to society than the negative impact on consumer rights, I believe, is the control that Bill C-61 gives to the big media companies, which will ultimately stifle innovation and competition. The rights granted by C-61 to big media companies are equivalent to granting Ford the right to say who is allowed to sell seat covers to be used in Ford vehicles and how much they have to pay Ford for Ford’s permission. I will make a post about this consequence of C-61 soon. In the meantime, you can read these articles which explain the problem to some degree: Red Hat founder concerned over Bill C-61, Why Are TPMs Still Popular?, and DVD-CCA Sues to Suppress Kaleidescape Product.

To learn more about Bill C-61 or to get involved in informing people of its consequences, I suggest you refer to these:

Copyright term extension: What’s the point?

The European Commission’s adoption of a copyright term extension proposal yesterday (covered by Ars Technica, Slashdot, and Digital Copyright Canada) provides an eerie reminder that, despite a plethora of evidence that such extensions are a bad idea, governing bodies continue to actively extend copyright terms. To determine why they are a bad idea, it is important to separate the two ways that copyright terms can be extended: by extending the terms of existing works (retroactive term extension) and by extending the terms of works that have yet to be made. Note that the EC’s copyright term extension includes both.

The purpose of copyright is to promote the creation of literary and artistic works. Because a retroactive term extension applies to works that have already been created, it cannot possibly promote the creation of new works. Furthermore, it reduces the number of works in the public domain, impeding the ability of new authors to build on the past. Not only is a retroactive term extension not helpful, it in fact hurts society.

Extending the copyright term for future works may provide some additional incentive to create new works. However, because copyright terms are already quite long (life of the author plus 50+ years in most jurisdictions), the net present value of the copyright term extension (the additional years for which the author holds exclusive rights) is very low. This is clearly laid out by a group of economists in their argument against copyright term extensions to the Supreme Court of the United States. Appendix B (page 23) shows that the net present value of copyright term extension is less than 2% of the existing net present value without term extensions, even assuming a low interest rate. And as with a retroactive term extension, extending the term for future works would impede creators’ ability to build on past works by reducing the number of works in the public domain. This detriment to the public domain far outweighs the negligible increase in creators’ revenue from a copyright term extension on future works.

Given all this, why would anyone implement a copyright term extension? Primarily it is a way for governing bodies to pacify creators by claiming that they will earn more money while economists have shown that such increases are negligible. It is my view that governing bodies that implement a copyright term extension have not adequately considered the negative impacts of such legislation.

Gazette copyright article posted

You can now view the University of Waterloo’s Gazette feature article on copyright from May 16, 1979, on my web site. I became interested in this article when I first saw it on the Today in UW history web page. The page describes Canada’s copyright law as “antiquated”, which many would agree holds true today. Hopefully you will find this article useful for analyzing how copyright law was in the past and how it has adapted to meet new technologies. This article is especially relevant now with a new copyright bill likely to be tabled within the next 4 weeks (or maybe not). Those interested in doing something about Canadian copyright law should join a group like Waterloo Students for the Information Commons or Digital Copyright Canada.

Content owners: Use web-based distribution now

(This post is for content owners, such as recording and publishing companies and independent artists, as well as for consumers. While it is aimed primarily at content owners because they are ultimately the people who decide how content is distributed, it is important that consumers also read it so they know how to facilitate the changes I propose.)

The Internet and its widespread availability to the general population (not yet true in many countries, but hopefully changing soon) have made distributing digital content to large numbers of people very easy. Books, academic journals, music, videos and many other creative works can be transferred from one computer to many others in a matter of minutes or often just seconds. However, most of that content is not allowed to be transmitted in that way. Why not? What can content owners and consumers do about it?
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A call for sensitivity to copyright sticklers

I am a copyright stickler. I try to discourage infringement of copyright laws whenever possible. As a result, my wishes often directly clash with the wishes of others that I socialize with. I suspect other copyright sticklers can relate. Though I wish more people cared about not infringing copyright, it’s difficult to change people’s minds on this issue so I won’t attempt to do that here. Rather, I will outline a situation where I felt uncomfortable discouraging copyright infringement in hopes that it will show you the social influences that make such a situation possible and how you can avoid encouraging such a situation.
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Making a living authoring public domain works

There are a couple models for paying authors of public domain educational works that I think would work reasonably well. (For reasons why educational works should be released into the public domain, see A case for public domain educational material). The first is the street performer protocol, which I discussed in a previous post. The other, which is more tailored to the specific problem of how authors of public domain educational works are paid will be described here. I call this model the Educator Donation Model.

Virtually all educational institutions use hard copies of educational works in their classrooms. This is likely to remain the case for some time because of people’s preference for reading educational material from a book rather than on a screen. As a result, educational institutions will continue to purchase printed educational works from publishers even if all the educational works they use are in the public domain since it is still relatively expensive to print a class set of textbooks oneself.
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A case for public domain educational material

I recently spent a weekend in Ottawa, which involved a 6-hour bus ride each way. Naturally I took along my laptop and several textbooks to study from during the bus ride. While lugging the 20-30 pounds of textbooks and electronics from the bus stop to where I was staying, it occurred to me that it makes no sense for me to carry around textbooks and a laptop when the textbooks could be electronically stored on my laptop with no additional weight cost aside from the initial weight cost of my laptop. Why can’t I do this? It’s simple: most textbook publishers do not provide electronic versions of the textbooks they publish because doing so would make it too easy to illegitimately copy a textbook, which means the author would not benefit monetarily from that copy.
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Street Performer Protocol

Here’s an interesting idea for all those music performers, software designers, book writers, and pretty much anyone else who creates works that can be easily shared electronically. Create a sample of what you can do and then get people to donate to an escrow that will pay you when you complete your work. When your work is done, it gets released into the public domain and you get the donated money. If you don’t finish your work in the allotted time, then the people that donated get their money back.

Instead of having people pay by the book, song, or software package, authors get a lump sum and agree to release the work to the public domain. This lets those with limited financial resources benefit from creative works of others despite not being able to pay them back.

Of course, there are issues with the SPP. For example, it might be hard to get people to donate at first. I’d hope that as more people became comfortable with this way of doing things, that people would start donating more freely.

The original paper on SPP and Wikipedia provide more details.