After several weeks of delays, the Balanced Copyright for Canada site revealed its funding and advisory board late on Tuesday night, hours before the Canada Day holiday. The primary source of funding is not a surprise – as I suggested in my first post on the site – this is a Canadian Recording Industry Association production. As the public questions about the site mounted, the regular response was that this was an effort of "employees, unions, artists and creators" and that the all-Canadian Advisory Board would be announced soon. The fact that the site was really a CRIA attempt to create "grassroots" support for C-32 was not acknowledged.
The composition of the advisory board is interesting. First, of the 13 members, more than half are either record company executives, former record company executives, or lawyers who represent record companies. No surprise given the site's backing, but not exactly the promised "employees, unions, artists and creators." In fact, it is notable that there are very few prominent creators and not many representatives from creator groups outside the music industry such as authors, performers, directors, or artists. In fact, despite an earlier claim that Loreena McKennitt would be on the advisory board, those plans apparently changed.
Why so few creators? Quite simply, CRIA's interests are not closely aligned with many other creator groups. ACTRA and AFM Canada quickly distanced themselves from the effort and most other musicians have been focused on the private copying levy, not digital locks. Moreover, the site briefly hosted a "consumer letter" that fully supported extending fair dealing to education, a move strongly opposed by some copyright collectives and authors' groups.
The other notable aspect of the advisory board is the inclusion of lawyer Richard Owens. Three months ago, Owens had the following to say about the use of form letters in the public policy process in an effort to call into question thousands of submissions from Canadians:
Form letters are useful to some degree, but they are hardly the outpourings of hearts and minds filled by circumspect contemplation of the minutiae of copyright law. The thought and effort required to send a form letter is minimal. A form letter can be sent from a position of complete ignorance so long as it seems to further some vague objective for the sender, such as the desire for free stuff, or to feed a sense of belonging to a community. It simply cannot be argued that form letters should be given equal weight and space with original, thoughtful Submissions. To do so would be to fail to make the most basic qualitative distinction amongst evidence at hand, and qualitative distinctions are far more important in areas of policy than mere quantity. It is ironic that so many people opted to make themselves heard about original works, with an appropriated “cut and paste” form letter.
What is really ironic is that Owens now finds himself on an advisory board of a site that not only requires sending a form letter to a local MP in order to fully participate in its activities, but will not even permit any edits to the letter itself (unlike the form letter service Owens criticized). Moreover, Owens warned against "gaming" the copyright consultation and argued that "online social networks can damage, rather than enhance, Canadian participative democracy." Yet here is a site that has accepted U.S. record company executives (who presumably were required to game the system by sending letters to MPs) and actively encourages using social networks to distort online discussions with suggested talking points on blog posts and other commentary.