Tone Deaf

The Sam Bulte fundraiser story has gone mainstream, with press coverage from the Canadian Press and the Toronto Star.  The Canadian Press story focuses on concerns from noted Canadian historian and politican scientist Jack Granatstein, who says the fundraiser is inappropriate, adding that:

"I worry when any politician, at any time but particularly in an election time, is given a fundraiser by a lobby group.  Politicians should be somewhat more careful than to be seen to be in the pocket of a particular collection of lobbyists on a matter of public importance.''

The concerns are dismissed by both Sam Bulte and CRIA's Graham Henderson.  Bulte responds that "nobody influences me, nobody can buy me" and that "people raise money all the time."  Well, some raise more money than others.  Bulte is apparently one of the best.  I've already posted on her prodigious fundraising from the pro-copyright lobby.  It is also worth noting that a review of the 2004 Ontario Liberal riding association returns reveals that Bulte ranked 5th among the more than 100 ridings in terms of total contributions of individuals, corporations, trade unions, and associations. 

Moreover, the notion that fundraisers are commonly promoted by the candidates during an election does not stand up to scrutiny. A review of all Liberal campaign sites in the current election campaign reveals that only three – Bulte, Stephen Owen, and Keith Martin – promote fundraisers.  Only Bulte's reveals a $250 per person price tag and only Bulte's is clearly supported by leaders of lobby groups.

Meanwhile, Henderson spins this as no big deal since "it is part of the political process."  He argues that "we've raised money for other people during this campaign period just like the truckers association, I'm sure, is doing."  I find this line of reasoning (Douglas Frith of the CMPDA argued much in the same thing) deeply troubling as it reveals a mindsight among the U.S.-backed entertainment associations in Canadian camoflouge that cash to politicians who support their views is an accepted means of pursuing their policy objectives. 

It is not. 

These comments not only taint the perception of the policy process, but they are simply untrue.  For example, another review of Elections Canada data reveals that in 2004 there were a total of five contributions to riding assocations from Canada's major banks (one of the five went to Bulte).  Simply put, everyone is not doing it (for what it is worth, the 2004 riding association data reveals no contributions from Canada's leading trucking association, the Canadian Trucking Alliance).

The Toronto Star article raises the unfortunate spectre of Bulte attacking me personally, arguing that I believe that everything should be free (anyone who has read my work knows that is not the case) and then asking "seriously, who is he funded by?"  The article answers that question by pointing to the grant I received to help launch the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic.  I am very proud of CIPPIC's work along with the other peer-reviewed work and grants that I have received and I believe that it is wrong to attack an academic in this way (is Granatstein next?). 

Bulte and Henderson appear to think that they can ride this storm out by arguing that the technical legality of the fundraiser should end the discussion or by attacking the messenger.  I suspect that they are wrong.  The issue was apparently discussed at this week's all-candidates meeting, it continues to generate enormous discussion among the bloggers, receive profile from political sites such as Bourque ("Bulte Buntoss Blows Up"), and even the blog on Quill and Quire has described it as "problematic".  The time has come for Ms. Bulte to cancel the fundraiser and take the Copyright Pledge.

Update: Terrific postings this morning on this issue from Dan Cook at ("Sam and Michael") and from Toronto technology law lawyer Rob Hyndman who rightly challenges Bulte on her characterization of the pro-copyright lobby as her friends, noting that "with friends like these, who needs democracry."

Update II: CBC is out with a story and Peggy Nash, Bulte's NDP challenger, has issued a press release stating that "Ms. Bulte needs to understand that her job as a parliamentarian is to work first and foremost in the public interest. Politicians are held to a higher standard than others and the perception of bias is simply not acceptable."


  1. Payoff, Payola… 6 letters in one, half
    This entire ruckus unfortunately suggests that Canada has reached the point whereby it has need of an independent centre or group that oversees political integrity… perhaps similar to what the USA has with the Centre for Public Integrity:

  2. Money = Influence
    Great job getting the word out on this affair. Legal or not, money = influence. We need to reform the system before things get worse. Can’t we adopt some sort of system whereby each party get’s a fixed amount of money and make all these type of fundraisers illegal. Why should a bunch of execs exert more influence over an MP than the people who elected her. How many of her constituents agree with her copyright stance I wonder.

  3. Allan Solly says:

    People who live in glass houses shouldn
    Oh stamp your little feet harder Michael. Maybe the big people will listen to you. Maybe you will get the attention you so want and the other corporations who fund you will be discovered. $240,000 from Amazon can’t be enough to keep you in num-nums.

  4. terminal velocity of sausage says:

    i had an idea
    hi michael, thanks again for all of your effort on this issue. i had an idea that one of your students might be interested in taking on. details are in this post:


  5. Dwight Williams says:

    Polite Disbelief of Mr. Solly
    I am inclined to disbelieve that Prof. Geist needs to worry overmuch about whether or not his next grant(s) are coming at all, much less where from. He already IS “big people”, after all.

    I consider the IP debate in Canada to be better informed for his presence and participation, and would give serious consideration to supporting him should he leave academia for a run for political office. He would be at least as useful in Parliament as the likes of Messrs. Cutler, Garneau, Dryden, and Ignatieff.

    And yes, that IS intended as a compliment.

  6. Hard to believe
    Its hard for me to believe the comments by Ms. Bulte. She seems to have no idea that Mr. Geists funding for a project is completely different from a politician who campaigns for electoral votes. She is being elected to represent the people, not the small group of people who funded her campaign. We are left in a position where we must trust in her honesty and open mindedness when she appears to display none of these qualities in her rebuttle.

    She went on teh agressive attack, rather than trying to see why people are upset. That scares me, especially when she is to be put in power. “Her way or no way” is how it appears to me.

    There is a HUGE difference in my mind between someone getting funding for a project, and someone receiving funding for a specific debate in which there are two opposing sides. She is to be completely independent, and not being paid by one side.

    I just don’t see how this can be anything less than obvious. If you get your monthly pay from an organization, it seems clear that you will not bite the hand that feeds you.

    She claims she can’t be bought, but I think she might mean she can’t be bought off more than she already is. That might sound mean, but I question whether she hasn’t already been bought, and sold her ethics, and it only feels “normal” to her today.

    Maybe she can be totally openminded. But, could she fight our casue agaist the record label groups?

    What exactly are her public stances that are for the people, and against the entertainment conglomerates interests? Does she clearly spell those out? Or does she simply agree with them and is pushing their cause?

  7. Who do politicans represent?
    No one will argue the need to protect artists rights. The fact is that at this point in time, one could argue that too many people are taking advantage of immature technologies and abuse fair use of copyrighted content. The challange is finding a way to balance artist and consumer rights.

    C-60 was so far off the mark because it provides proprietary protections that will be used by US based record companies to bolster monopolistic profits in Canada.

    Sam Bulte, somehow became the author of a document that rightly should be called “The protection of monoplistic rights to the US record companies act”. Her proposed approach even places the record companies in a postion where they can abuse their artists even more than the currently do, so there is no protection for the artist.

    So, who do politicians represent? The rights of millions of Canadians, or the rights of a few US run record companies? The Liberals should be ashamed of this behaviour, which is in the same category as the worst of the Mulroney era corporate pandering.

    Bulte should loose this election, just to show democracy is alive and well.

  8. Geist’s ‘selective hearing’
    I posted this on a previous article, but meant to place it here:

    Mr. Geist, you are leaving out some major facts in this story that it seems your passion for digital issues blinds you to. Firstly, Ms. Bulte was an ardent proponent of the copyright issues she currently holds prior to her election in 2004. This suggests that the fundraiser might be a ‘thank you’ from the recording industry for her position, which they support. Also, since the early 1980s Ms. Bulte was a fan and friend of the Canadian music scene at a time when she had no political or economic clout; she has not recently joined their cause for economic gain. Also – while this does not relate to your copyright issues – her opponent Peggy Nash received more money in the 2004 campaign from organizations than Ms. Bulte; all of these donations are from labour or labour associated organizations; Nash works in labour (an assistant to Buzz Hargrove, CAW). Your influence-peddling reasoning can also be used to make rash claims against Nash. Finally, while the $250 a plate dinner seems like a more affluent event, and even if 100 people attend (the venue cannot seat many more), $25,000 is a very small amount for an MP to be bought out for. Most corrupt politicians of the past settled for figures with a few more zeroes at the end.

  9. Sorry, long post
    We are being far too easy on Sam Bulte. She is absolutely “in the pocket” of her lobby friends, and she proves it with her words and actions. Her actions are that she holds a fundraiser by strong lobby groups. Her words are that she does so to correct Canadian copyright law to be more in their favour.

    Internet downloading is NOT illegal. It is, however, illegal to download copyrighted materials for which you have not paid the owner. But, the record labels are extremely vigilant regarding lawsuits against any download site. They close the sites down completely (Napster, Grokster etc). Its not that they want their own copyright materials removed, they want no one to have all access to the distribution method itself removed. They want no one to distribute their copyrighted materials via those mechanisms.

    Smaller, lesser known artists can use the internet download sites to promote their products for very little expense, and make money at it while bypassing the large record labels. Some smaller labels are already doing this successfully.

    In software, people also have copyrights. They also have internet available as a distribution method. Freeware software is released publicly into the marketplace, and the copyright owner makes no requirement of financial payment for use of their goods. Shareware lets the customer try the goods out before paying, largely using the honor system. Commercial software expects payment for all uses, and there are several methods to enforce payment (advantages to official registration, hardware copy protection, activation keys…). The commercial applications co-exist with the freeware and shareware products. The downloading itself isn’t illegal, it simply the manner in which you gain access to the copyrighted materials.

    Why does Ms. Bulte claim it is otherwise? Why does she live in the black and white world in which her “friends” (foreign recording labels) have rights, and she claims anyone who disagrees with her is in favour of getting stuff for free (ie piracy). It’s a completely ridiculous claim, but its one that the recording industry has been pushing for years. She spouts off that opinion recklessly, aiming it at Michael Geist when she has no proof at all of his being an internet pirate who swipes copyrighted materials.

    In fact, I think that the media itself is under similar conflicts. Does not Mr. Geist work for the Toronto Star, to write a weekly column? Yet, other people voice similar opinions as his on internet using blogs. This conflict between open access and open creation of copyright is in conflict with the Toronto Star’s business strategy, yet should all blogs simply be outlawed, or the search for them, or the reading of them?

    The blogs often point readers back to the Toronto Star, for example, thereby increasing its exposure, and the possibility of worldwide readship instead of a more localized one that paper based news is limited to.

    Just because the Toronto Star creates content for viewership does not give them the right to close down other sites though. Yet, the recording industry feels it does have that right, and Ms. Bulte is firmly on their side. She paints everyone who is not on her side as freeloaders. THIS is unbiased? OMG!

  10. “Geist’s ‘selective hearing’
    Mr. Geist, you are leaving out some major facts in this story that it seems your passion for digital issues blinds you to. Firstly, Ms. Bulte was an ardent proponent of the copyright issues she currently holds prior to her election in 2004. This suggests that the fundraiser might be a ‘thank you’ from the recording industry for her position, which they support.”

    But, there are THREE parties in the copyright msuic structure; Artists, Recording Labels, Customers. She only represents two of them and calls the others freeloaders.

    Furthermore, she doesn;t represent ALL artists, nor ALL recording studios & labels. She represents a small fraction of them, and claims to speak for all, using the funds of the vocal minority.

    I simply don’t see whats wrong with asking and ensuring that copyright law is UNBIASED. That ALL parties are represented fairly.

    Clearly, you disagree but that is your choice and not mine; hence my support for Mr. Geist.

    Ms. Bulte could have come out with this incident with words that make the people of Canada (of which I am one) feel better regarding her ethics. Instead, she did the opposite. I don’t feel more confident of her open mindedness, I fell much less so after seeing her response.

    I KNOW she is biased, and she doesn;t even want to discuss the alternative points of view. To her, they are crooks, pirates, and freeloaders. Odd, but that is almost exactly how I picture her and her little group of friends.

    CD’s are cheap to make compared to movies, can be distributed cheaper (CD rather than DVD), have a wider consumer base (more applicances available than just TV), yet cost the same or more than movies. Why is that?

    I think that the large recording labels already add a substantial fee into the entire CD system, to accunt for “lost sales due to piracy”. They also get a royalty from every single blank disc sold in Canada. Yet, they need “more”. Who decides when ENOUGH IS ENOUGH?

  11. A little zero or lots of zeros…
    A little wrong or a lot of wrong? A little corrupt or a lot of corruption? A little inappropriate or a lot inappropriate? Whether the thinking is there from the start , from the middle or the end, there is no right way to do a wrong thing, period. The good news is that democracy allows everyone an equal opportunity to learn the hard way!

  12. Attacking academics
    Although I’m on Geist’s side of this argument, I wanted to point to something he said which I might disagree with.

    “… I believe that it is wrong to attack an academic in this way …”

    In cases where the accusation is without merit, then surely the attack is wrong, but I’m sure there are cases were academics spout out research based very squarely on the opinions of their funders. This is unfortunate, but due to the way research funding is organized, it is a necessary consequence in some (many?) cases. Michael Crichton has (and I’m sure many others have) some very interesting thoughts on this particular matter.

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