With the Bulte story now a week old (I actually blogged about it nearly three weeks ago but it started to pick up steam on new years day), one might think that there is little else to say. I think there is more because this incident is as much about how Canadian copyright law has been hijacked by the copyright industry lobby as it is about Ms. Bulte's puzzling inability to comprehend why so many Canadians are troubled by her January 19th fundraiser and her history of accepting copyright-backed cash while simultaneously playing a leading role on Canadian copyright policy.
The fallout continued over the weekend including another blog posting from Colby Cosh, coverage from Bourque, an "anti-endorsement" from Progressive Bloggers, emphasis on the issue from Bulte challenger Peggy Nash, and reference to the Bulte issue in a Don Martin column on Liberal misfortune in the National Post. Throw in another BoingBoing posting and blog commentary here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here, you've got a story that is not going away.
Moreover, David Fewer, a counsel with CIPPIC and contributor to copyrightwatch.ca posted an intriguing piece on what might be described as the "making of a copyright politician." Fewer tracks Bulte's campaign contributions dating back to her election as an MP in 1997. He notes that she received nothing from the copyright lobby during her first term and had little to say about the issue. Suddenly in 2000, the money started flowing (including SOCAN, CMPDA, etc.) and Bulte emerged as a vocal advocate for stronger copyright reform.
Late Friday Bulte sent out a response to at least some constituents who expressed concern about the fundraiser. I've received several copies (they are all the same right down to the identical typo). In it, Bulte defends her actions, arguing that she "will never waiver [sic]" in her support for the cultural community.
I found parts of the response surprising for its commentary on Canadian copyright law. Bulte says "Canadian copyright law ensures that you will be compensated for your creative works. It also means that making unauthorized reproductions and computer hacking of copyrighted materials – like music, for example – is deemed illegal." I don't know what Bulte is talking about with reference to computer hacking of copyright materials. The Criminal Code includes provisions on the computer hacking, but those provisions have nothing to do with copyright. If this is a reference to hacking technological protection measures, then Ms. Bulte is misinformed as Canadian copyright law does not address this issue and even Bill C-60 would only make such action an infringement (not illegal) if done for the purpose of copyright infringement.
Bulte also seeks to defend her past fundraising, arguing that only 10 percent of her overall 2004 contributions came from the copyright and corporate sector. This may be true, but consider again that (i) in most instances Bulte was the only Canadian MP to take money from these groups and (ii) look at who was doing the giving:
- the publishing industry including Access Copyright, Association Of Canadian Publishers, Canadian Publisher's Council, McArthur & Company Publishing Limited, McGraw-Hill Ryerson Limited along with individuals such as Roanie Levy, Access Copyright's Director of Legal Services and Government Relations. The industry spent 2004 fighting for a new "extended licensing" system that would have forced schools to pay millions for accessing publicly available content on the Internet. Bulte was a vocal supporter of the scheme, which was actively opposed by education groups from coast to coast. How Bulte reconciles her opposition to the education community on this crucial issue with the Liberal party's recent emphasis on education would make for an interesting question at a candidates meeting.
- the music and movie industries including collectives such as CMRRA and SOCAN as well as associations such as CFTPA. These industries were lobbying hard for U.S. style DMCA legislation (including anti-circumenvention legislation and a notice and takedown system), an approach Bulte recommended her report.
- the theatre industry including the Professional Association of Canadian Theatres and the Stratford Festival, who were arguing for an increase in federal funding for the arts. The Liberal government committed to increased funding in 2005.
- the photography industry, including the Professional Photographers of Canada, who were backing a Senate bill that would have granted photographers greater copyright rights over consumer commissioned photographs and raised privacy concerns
- the copyright lobby's own lobbyists such as former MP Paul Bonwick, who sat on the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage with Ms. Bulte and before becoming a paid lobbyist for Access Copyright.
I think the record speaks for itself. Whether this support is a function of cause (the support makes it more likely that Ms. Bulte will support these groups) or effect (the support comes because Ms. Bulte is supporting these groups) is immaterial. What matters is that the copyright policy process has been tainted by the perception of cash for copyright. Indeed, John Bowker, the owner of She Said Boom, a record store located in Bulte's Parkdale-High Park riding, sent me the following comments (posted with permission):
Corporations should not be given the absolute power to regulate how Canadians enjoy their music. But thanks to Sarmite Bulte and her friends, we can expect the industry to:
install more invasive "anti-piracy" software on our computers;
restrict legal iPod use, and control how and where we enjoy music;
place punitive tariffs on new music uses and channels that don't serve corporate interests;
and restrict how music fans discover new music by controlling podcasts, music blogs and other legitimate fan activity on the internet (check SOCAN tariff 22)
Those of us who have worked hard to build strong bonds with music fans cannot afford to have these relationships controlled within a corporate model under Bulte's proposed changes. And since we lack the close relationship with Bulte's parliamentary committee apparently enjoyed by corporate lobbyists, we will be unable to compete on a level playing field.
I say again that it is time to clean up copyright. It is time for Bulte to cancel the January 19th fundraiser and to take the copyright pledge.
Update II: Fading Ways Records, an independent Canadian record label, has issued a scathing press release on the Bulte affair. Meanwhile, IT Business carries a detailed feature article with comments from all sides. The article includes with an interesting (if unlikely) possibility as Ms. Bulte indicated that she is willing to debate me in a public forum on copyright issues. I would be delighted to do so – anytime, anywhere.