Canadian Author Voices Opinion on Copyright

We live in an age where advanced technology and controversy often collide. Controversy has found significant degrees of magnitude online, as the music and movie industries are in a desperate fight to shove the file-sharing genie back in the bottle.

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

Many have observed these industries are trying to hang on to an outdated business model rather than adjust their course and flow with the Internet tide.

The entertainment industry contends they are indeed changing, through services such as iTunes, Napster, and Rhapsody. However such changes do not occur over night. Although sympathetic to the needs of the consumer, they contend attempting to rush this change through theft does not change its moral implications. In Canada, the CRIA (Canadian Recording Industry Association) is pushing for the passage of Bill C-60, which many refer to as the Canadian DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act.)

Conversely, consumer and technology advocates hail the changes taking place online, and argue the P2P and file-sharing technology are simply the next step in the evolution of the Internet.

While the entertainment industry and consumers go head to head, it seems that content creators, by and large, have been strangely quiet on the issue.

In these times of legal uncertainty, Lynda Williams, a novelist and techno-savvy individual, has agreed to talk about these sensitive issues.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you write, and for how long.

I have written for as long as I can remember. There’s an article on the Okal Rel Universe website about my high school period. See [my website for this article]

As to what I write, the main stage is taken up by the Okal Rel Universe saga itself. The first book in the series came out this summer from Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy, and is called “Courtesan Prince”. The Edge books are the flagship manifestation of the ORU. Then there are the books published by Windstorm Creative, which are hosted works written by myself and others. And there is the ORU website, itself, where a great many pages of background material has built up over the years.

I also publish other things from time to time. I sold a story to Julie Czerneda’s MYTHSPRING anthology this summer, for example. Sometimes I even write non-fiction.

Sometime ago, you heard a report about the education system being at odds with Bill C-60. What is happening there and what are your feelings on that?

I have an article about that on the “Thinking Out Loud” blog. Basically, although the most hair-raising part of the bill (charging schools to use internet materials) was withdrawn, there are still big questions about how viable the regulations that are still there will be for an education industry that is already feeling the pinch, with regard to funds. The bill requires a tracking system for copyrighted material that is used in web courses, for example, that might be prohibitively costly to implement.

Do you think that there are positive attributes for Copyright and Trademarks in Canada? Also, what are the pitfalls to people like you?

Absolutely! Copyright is not a bad thing, when it seeks to protect rights of authors and those who invest in them, like publishers. Companies who invest heavily in a trademark need some protection, as well.

But we shouldn’t fool ourselves. There are pitfalls as well. I don’t know a lot about Trademarks (or patents) but where copyright is concerned, I believe it becomes a bad thing when it is used to unreasonably restrict the rights of users and to commodify the works of writers in a way that simply isn’t “natural”, for lack of a better word. My prime example would be when a publisher “locks up” someone’s rights but won’t publish their work, either. It amounts to a gag order.

If someone walks up to you and says they have either a novel, a screenplay or a musical act, and is torn between trying to go for a publishing deal or going for a Creative Commons License, what would you recommend?

I would ask the person to think long and hard about what he or she hoped to accomplish. Naturally, everyone would like to become rich and famous. It might be possible to become famous if you use a Creative Commons License, but if you plan to profit you had better have a clever scheme up your sleeve for it, like getting invited to do international tours or get consulting contracts as a result of your fame. And you will have to do a lot of work and have a lot of talent to achieve fame, whether you publish online or in print.

Even if you want to make money, you should ask yourself why. The number of people who “make it big” is very, very small in any creative enterprise. I think there is a lot of dissatisfaction among writers because of that unfortunate fact. But if your goal in earning some money is to make it possible for you to devote more time to writing, then publishing in the traditional way may be an excellent idea.

Publishers invest a lot in their writers, too, above and beyond any direct payment to them. But publishing via Creative Commons is increasingly respectable and for people who make the decision for the right reasons, can be very satisfying. Know thyself, is my feeling about all these things. Which is easier said than done, of course. 🙂 But that’s the gist.

There is also talk about DRM and TPM’s in content and proposed laws saying that you can’t circumvent them in any way. Do you think that this is beneficial to artists and/or consumers in any way or is there more downsides to this sort of thing?

No, I don’t. Digital Rights Management schemes promoted by an anxious music industry, and other stakeholders alarmed by the internet, reduces the rights of consumers. I believe we need to find new commercial models, not enshrine old ones in law that are no longer “natural” due to changes in technology. I believe this will happen, in the long run. For good information about this issue, see the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest page or the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The CD levvys have always been a big deal in Canada. The reason that they say they put them in place is because you could commit copyright infringement using them. Do you think that this is a fair levvy to force onto all customers?

No, I don’t. It presumes guilt until proven innocent. Any solution that imposes restrictions or barrier to the legitimate and creative use of digital media for perfectly legal purposes should be resisted. Bottom line — a lot of these proposals do not respect the fact that people are compilers and creators of content, not just consumers of it. There is no way we should accept interference in our own creative output because a company is worried we might copy something that belongs to them.

Podcasting is growing rapidly. Leo Laporte, the host of TWiT (a podcast called “This Week in Technology”) said that it is becoming the Internet “bubble” in the year 2000 all over again where anything can happen. Where do you see podcasting right now and where do you think it is going?

As recording and accessing audio becomes more natural for everyone, I expect that podcasting will become a mainstream part of using the internet. Text and images will not go away, however. We tend to add media without subtracting others. And for a long time, there will be people who cannot access audio as easily as text. But audio is definitely “in” and can be exciting.

There was a story where authors are trying to sue Google for its cataloging system of books. As an author yourself, what is your take on that?

I have read about that, so I’ll comment from a personal perspective although I am not an expert on the issues. Overall, I think authors are being a bit paranoid about the Google project. The whole situation is an example of the stress between desiring maximum access (wanting people to read your books) and maximum payment (wanting to make money whenever someone reads your book). Maybe we need to move to a model in which authors are paid to create a work, and it is made available for free after that. More and more academic publishing is going that way. The authors may not be paid for the individual work, but they are paid by the larger society to produce works that are then made available to all.

But to get back to the question, and keep it personal, I would be glad to have my books available in Google’s system. More people would know about them, and those who wanted to have a hard copy would probably still buy one. As I understand it, in fact, only bibliographic information is available online in any case, unless the author gave permission to make full-text available.

Finally, what do you think should be the message sent to Parliament on this whole issue of copyright, digital rights and content?

To respect the rights of consumers and do some homework on the history of changes in business models resulting from changes in technology.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Just this. What you are doing here is an example of how technology, like blogs, make it possible for more of us to share in processes that used to be entirely controlled by large and powerful organizations. The big guys still have the largest voice, but it is a good thing, IMHO, that many smaller voices such as ours can at least join the chorus these days. The influence we have, of course, will be proportional to how professionally we conduct ourselves, in researching our facts and doing our best to make our work presentable. I urge everyone with an opinion to get out there and engage! But don’t forget what you learned in school about how to do it responsibly and well.

The staff of Slyck would like to thank Lynda Williams for taking the time out of her busy schedule to answer our questions. For more information on Lynda Williams and Okal Rel, check out her website for more information. She and her partner have published two novels in their novel series and is currently working on a third.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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