The Bulte story is generating considerable media attention today (Canadian Press, Globeandmail.com, IT Business) as the "bloggers influence the election" angle is an attractive one. This obviously continues the theme from last week when Macleans, Toronto Star, National Post, and Globe and Mail all discussed the same issue (as did Rob Hyndman in an excellent post). While the blogger issue should be highlighted, we should not lose sight of the substance behind the Bulte story.
Examining the role of blogs is unquestionably interesting and important. It is difficult to quantify, but I'm fairly confident that the online community had a real impact in Parkdale High-Park (although I again hasten to add that without a strong candidate running against Bulte this definitely would not have happened). The voting shift was fairly significant given that this was a rematch of the 2004 election and no other Toronto riding in similar circumstances experienced quite as dramatic a move toward the NDP. This suggests that some new – potentially the copyright issue – played a role.
Moreover, from a distance it appeared that the copyright questions had an impact on Bulte's effectiveness on the campaign trail. When she first faced the issue, she focused on transparency and characterized my claims as "egregious." I have the sense that it went downhill from there as she soon jumped to the infamous "pro-user zealot" remark, the claim that it wasn't a fundraiser, the threat to sue, and then finally last night strangely responding to her defeat by stating that she "had no thoughts", she didn't care about a minority government, and that "according to everybody, I did nothing."
I should also note that the way the story spread through the blogosphere – with high traffic blogs and sites such as BoingBoing, Larry Lessig, and Bourque; local blogs such as the Accordion Guy and Ross Radar; law blogs such as Rob Hyndman and Copyright Watch; political blogs such as Progressive Bloggers; industry blogs such as Quill and Quire; mainstream media blogs such as Dan Cook (Globe and Mail), Antonia Zerbisias (Toronto Star), Colby Cosh (Macleans), and the CBC's Election Blog; online news sites such as P2Pnet.net and ZDNet; along with dozens of other blogs and chat boards tells us a lot about how stories propagate online. Further, the distribution of video, audio, parodies, bumper stickers, and a petition are all a fascinating part of the Internet story.
But they are not the most important part of the story. More important than the story about blogs, is the substantive lessons to be learned from the past three weeks. Building on a copyrightwatch post that mines the same theme, I offer three:
First, the recent events send a clear message that Canadians want copyright policy (and indeed all policy making) to be both fair and to be seen to be fair. That means accounting for all stakeholders and removing the lobbyist influence from the equation. My article on the role of the lobby groups in the copyright process attracted considerable interest as many people expressed surprise at just how badly the system is broken. It was this message that resonated with many people in the riding who may know little about copyright policy, but can identify a perceived conflict of interest when they see one. Going forward, all parties must work to clean up copyright.
Second, among the most important voices in the debate came from artists such as Matthew Good, Steven Page, and Neil Leyton. As groups such as CRIA were rightly identified as lobbyists who represent predominantly foreign interests, Canadian artists and Canadian interests began to speak up. If (or more likely when) a new copyright bill comes to committee, it will be incumbent on Canada's politicians to hear not only from the lobby groups, but also from the creators and users, many of whom are singing a much different tune from the lobbyists.
Third, this could have been about any issue, but it wasn't. It was about copyright. Copyright is often described as a fringe issue, yet to millions of Canadians it has an enormous impact on their daily lives, affecting education, culture, creativity, the use of personal property, privacy, and security. Labeling those concerned with these issues as pro-user zealots or claiming that this is merely about music downloading is to miss a much bigger story and to fail to connect with a segment of the population.
Six thousand votes, the shift in Parkdale-High Park, may not sound like much, but last night it would have been enough to alter the outcome of 123 ridings across Canada. Politicians should keep that in mind when the copyright issue once again takes centre stage.
Update II: The Law Times has published another review of the Bulte story that includes some discussion of what may lie ahead.