Rights vs. Needs

Several people have written to ask for a comment on this week's O' Canada panel at the Future of Music Summit in Washington, DC.  In addition to my participation (and Walter McDonough's moderation) the panel featured CRIA President Graham Henderson, CMRRA's David Basskin, and MP Sarmite Bulte.  Much of the panel was expected (WIPO Lite vs. an Enlightened WIPO, a statutory damages debate, the impact of the DMCA, what is not covered by Bill C-60, etc.) and not worthy of a detailed review.

More important in my view were two comments from Ms. Bulte.  First, commenting on some earlier FMC discussion that noted the strength of the copyright lobby in the United States, Bulte opined that Canada doesn't have a strong copyright lobby.  I found this to be a remarkable statement: with dozens of copyright collectives and industry associations, it is well known that the copyright lobby in Canada employs a steady stream of lobbyists and is far more powerful than those representing user interests. Indeed, at Ms. Bulte's own committee last year, one MP acknowledged that the user interests were far outnumbered by copyright holder interests.

Second, Ms. Bulte sought to characterize the copyright balance as one pitting creator rights against consumer needs.  I responded (as believe all should respond) that this is simply not the case.  As the Supreme Court of Canada has noted, the balance involves creator rights and user rights.  There is a world of difference between needs and rights.  Consumers do not only "need" to make copies of work for fair dealing purposes.  They have the right to do so.  Consumers do not need to make personal copies of sound recordings. Under the private copying system in Canada, they have the right to do so (at least according to the head of the Canadian Private Copying Collective).  Needs may of course go unsatisfied, but rights occupy a much more important place in the legal hierarchy.  They cannot be simply taken away and no one should allow Ms. Bulte, CRIA or anyone else to do so, whether through law or language.  

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