Canadian Art Professionals Demand Copyright Reform

Canada has built a reputation for being “a backwards country” in comparison to the United States. While this ‘backwards nation’ has had different approaches to problems compared to the United States, copyright reform’s destiny is unclear.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

What is clear are the concerns expressed by the Coalition of Canadian Art Professionals. This group that represents the Canadian art community which embodies over 12,000 members from 82 artist run centers sent an open letter to the government with some interesting points being made.

While Graham Henderson, president of the CRIA (Canadian Recording Industry Association) has mentioned many times that Canada needs to put in legislation that mirrors that of US copyright law, other groups such as the CMCC (Canadian Music Creators Coalition) and (now) the Coalition of Canadian Art Professionals seem to disagree directly or indirectly. All these groups seem to be passionate about Canadian art and its relationship with up and coming copyright legislation, yet they encompass very different opinions on how to protect art and the artists – a clear sign that this debate has no clear answers.

So now that this Coalition has sent an open letter, what are the points being made? The letter says, “The Coalition offers three principles that it argues must ground Canada’s copyright policy:

Creators need access to the works of others to create. Legislative changes premised on the “need” to give copyright owners more control over their works must be rejected.

The time has come for the Canadian government to consider replacing fair dealing with a broader defense, such as fair use, that will offer artists the certainty they require to create.

Laws that privilege technical measures that protect access to digital works must be rejected. The law should not outlaw otherwise legal dealings with copyrighted works merely because a digital lock has been used. Artists work with a contemporary palette, using new technology. They work from within popular culture, using material from movies and popular music. Contemporary culture should not be immune to critical commentary.”

Certainly, these demands by this group which represent intellectual property creators share similar concerns as expressed by the CMCC just two months earlier, another group which represents artists. The difference is that the Coalition of Canadian Art Professionals is more focused on fair dealing, or what the US version of this is, “fair use”. In fact, fair use is actually specifically mentioned as an example to protect creator’s interests. At the same time, both the CMCC and the Coalition of Canadian Art Professionals reject the need to legally prevent anti-circumvention.

It would seem as though that Canadian creators are actually rejecting the concept of DRM (Digital Rights Management) and most of them are supporting the philosophy of fair dealings and fair use. A stark contrast to the image painted by Graham Henderson’s speech where he claims that while there are a “handful” of artists with this idea, there are significantly more creators who support things such as DRM. Interestingly enough, this was shortly after six major Canadian labels left the CRIA where the labels cite a conflict of interest and some even say that the CRIA is only representing foreign interests. Is this merely a grey area in this copyright debate or is Canadian creator’s actively showing defiance to the ideologies expressed by groups such as the CRIA?

Further in the open letter:

““Artworks that use appropriation have a long and well documented place in the history of art” notes Sarah Joyce, a signatory to the Open Letter. “These works are collected and exhibited in major cultural institutions across Canada and throughout the world and yet artists express this form of creativity under threat of the law. To silence this valid form of creativity is tragic. That Canada’s laws do so is simply wrong.”

“Canada’s art community has not been consulted on the implications of possible copyright reforms,” states Gordon Duggan, another of the Open Letter’s signatories. “We are creators, and we rely on copyright laws for our livelihood. Yet, to my knowledge, the needs of Canadian artists have never been a consideration in copyright policy debates. It is time that changed. The sheer size and makeup of this coalition [reflects] the level of dissatisfaction within the art community. These changes are set to lock Canadian art into a very narrow idea of what the Government wants art to be rather than reflecting the reality of contemporary Canadian art.””

Both interesting takes on this issue which shows stark contrast to what is currently being proposed in the USA.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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