Crawl Across the Ocean

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

I Want My Own Lobbyists

Jay Currie has a good post up at BlogsCanada on the introduction of Bill C-60, which is officially titled, 'An Act To Give More Rights To The Recording Industry At The Expense Of Giving Citizens Of Canada Fewer Rights While At The Same Time Trying Not To Step On The Toes Of Powerful Internet Service Providers'. OK, technically it is titled, 'An Act To Amend the Copyright Act' but I think my title gives more insight into the bill.

I won't get into all the details of the legislation here (if you want the details your best bet is to read Michael Geist (holder of the Canada Research Chair in Internet and e-Commerce Law) who's been following this as closely as anyone) but the general impression I'm getting so far is that, while more balanced than the U.S. legislation in this area, the new laws are basically there to protect business from the effects of new technology by making many of the uses of this technology illegal (or making it illegal to circumvent limitations deliberately built into technology to make it less functional). For example, from Geist,
"Therefore, Canadians may be asked to pay several times for the same work as they may pay once for the CD, once for the digital download, and once through the private copying levy for the blank CD. Attempts to circumvent protections on the CD in order to make a personal copy (a copy already paid for via the levy) will now constitute infringement in Canada."
It doesn't seem like a wise approach, or one which was crafted with my interests (as a citizen of Canada) in mind.

Stepping back from the actual legislation (which we can at least hope doesn't pass before parliament is dissolved and we head to another election), I was struck by this line from Geist,
"There is simply no denying that the lobbying efforts of the copyright owners, particularly the music industry, have paid off as they are the big winners in this bill."

This, I think is the root of the problem. The battle over copyright involves balancing the interests of artists, the industry of copyright holders, communications companies (such as ISPs) and individual citizens. Everyone on that list has lobbyists working the government to get their side a good deal - everyone except for the citizens. In theory, of course, the Members of Parliament themselves are supposed to be lobbyists for the citizens of Canada, but in practice, it seems that MP's have trouble remembering that this is supposed to be their role, especially when it comes to issues in which there is not a big public interest factor (i.e. over 99% of all issues).

What we need are citizen lobbyists who can keep getting in MP's face and reminding them whose interest they were elected to serve. Blogs are a decent start, and indeed when Geist is listing the 'reactions' to the bill, his only source for reactions of 'individual Canadians' is to mention blogs. But I don't think blogs are good enough - we need someone who will stack panels for presentations to MP's, someone who can finance user-friendly studies and reports, someone who can get MP's on the phone or go to lunch at a nice Ottawa restaurant and bend their ear a little bit. We need people with media clout who can get fawning coverage of their every word and make well publicized (even if poorly substantiated) claims about the needs for better protection for citizens. In short, we need our own lobbyists to take on the industry lobbyists.

So here's my proposal. For the next election we should get two ballots. One will be the standard ballot for electing MP's and the second will be the lobbyist ballot. The lobbyists will be elected by some sort of proportional representation and people will be able to vote for lobbyists to represent citizen interests on the issues that are important to them. People concerned about digital rights could vote for a digital rights lobbyist, people worried about health care could vote for a health lobbyist and so on. With luck this would ensure the election of a broad cross-section of lobbyists to represent the public. The number of lobbyists elected would have to be calibrated to the number of lobbyists other interest groups have working for them - I'm sure we could work out a formula. The lobbyists would have to be well paid to avoid the incentive for them to be bought off by private interests, but I'm guessing that the refreshing feeling of working for, rather than against the public interest for once would compensate for a somewhat lower salary than industry lobbyists get. A salary (and benefits) similar to what MP's get now should be sufficient.

OK, I know what you're thinking: if the current group of people we elect to parliament fails to consistently represent our interests, why should this second group be any different? But MP's are charged with the job of drafting legislation, which is a tricky business and requires a balancing of many interests. Since they are already considering various interests, it is relatively easy to tip them towards considering the distant public a little less and the up close and personal industry group a little more. But LP's (Lobbyists of Parliament) wouldn't have to give any weight to the interests of other groups at all. Just like an industry lobbyist they would only care about their clients (the general public) and everybody else be damned.

Who's with me?

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  • rant on<
    as an indie musician and recording artist i couldn't be more disgusted by the lying pricks that run the music industry. the levy on blank media was sold to the government on the notion that the revenues would be used to reimburse the artists for lost earnings from home copying. now, i'm no rock star but i am acquainted with a few and not one person that i know has received penny one of that cash. it is no more than a private tax for the benefit of greedy corporations. sweet deal. among the other lies that i've seen in the lobbying of late, is the notion that without the new restrictive laws, the recording industry won't be able to foster and support new artists. well, let me assure you that the bizniz couldn't give a tinker's damn for new artists unless they happen to be a nymphette with a jail bait pout and a couple of disposable jingles to stuff down the video tube. industry support is the kind of ugly lie that young talents have been getting sucked in by for ages. every penny that the industry spends gets sucked right back out of the artists pocket three times over before the artist actually makes money. ah the sweet lucre of recoupable expenses. but perhaps the biggest and most disgusting scam of the biz is the price of the cd in the marketplace. when the technology shifted from analog to digital, the price of music more than doubled. the money going to artists stayed the same. we were told that once production capacity caught up with demand that prices would drop by at least half. mmm yup. now, as i am in the process of recording a new cd, i know that when i pay my money to have it packaged, i will be paying about $3 per copy in a short run of one to two thousand units. do the math and imagine how much the unit cost of the latest hits must be, pennies a pop. yet when i sell a copy for $10 at a show, i will make more than five times the revenue per unit that most signed acts receive from their product being sold at $20 or more. my advice is ignore the greedy bastards and share your love of music with your friends and with those that create it. support your local scene and if you like the music buy it from the artist. and for the record most of us players would be thrilled to know that people are interested enough to download our work, we do this because we love it and we want it to be heard.
    >rant off

    By Blogger Lindsay Stewart, at 8:01 PM  

  • Clever idea for lobbyists Declan. I vote for you!

    The thing with copyright though: there's no point lobbying this one. The concept has long been twisted away from a 'balancing' of interests to the protecting of profits. So most of us have just moved on. We simply ignore it. The issue has been solved for a long long time.

    By Blogger skritchy, at 7:30 AM  

  • psa - very true - I think you make an important point that as a musician there are more goals than just making money - one of which is to reach as many people as possible with your music - but I doubt this was factored into the recording industry's lobbying work.

    skritchy - What do you mean by 'the issue has been solved'. Do you mean that technology allows us to just ignore the foolish laws so it's not a big deal or that the 'solution' is tougher laws like the ones proposed in bill C-60?

    Either way I'd say the issue is far from settled. In fact, it was work (lobbying) by people like Michael Geist which probably resulted in the improvements in the bill here vs. what was passed in the U.S. And the bill is far from being passed here in Canada - there's lots of time and lots of ways to influence how this turns out. I think it's an important concept and it's worth fighting to maintain a non-corporate view of copyright/intetllectual property. As we move through the next few decades, digital information seems likely to make up an ever growing % of the economy so this issue will impact us more and more.

    By Blogger Declan, at 10:39 PM  

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