Canadian Independent Film Creators Reject DRM

While copyright reform seems unlikely to hit this fall at this point, that doesn’t stop Canadians from raising their voices over copyright.

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

The Documentary Organization of Canada (DOC) wrote an open letter (PDF) addressing this issue. While their message matches many other Canadian voices, some are wondering if the heritage minister really is listening in the first place.

“Canada has a rich tradition of documentary filmmaking. Canadian documentaries have achieved international acclaim and played an integral role in the dissemination of Canadian culture by encouraging the expression of diverse perspectives on social, political and historical realities.” DOC wrote in their open letter.

The letter continues, “Yet, with growing costs and limits on use of visual material and music imposed by copyright laws, this great tradition is at risk. Despite the enrichment that documentaries provide to Canadian culture, the reality is that most documentaries do not achieve great financial success and increasingly, the expense of copyrighted material is surpassing filmmakers’ budgets. As a result, many documentaries are no longer being distributed or made, and in a growing number of cases, completed works are being withdrawn from circulation. Many important films are no longer available to future generations because the film owners cannot afford to renew the copyrights on music or archival footage in the film.”

An increase in copyright fees overall is a known problem to many. One particular case affected university students across Canada when learning packages went from 8.7 cents per page to 10 cents per page (and is expected to rise again next September according to that article.)

The open letter then cites a recent survey entitled Censorship by Copyright (PDF.) According to the survey, when film makers were asked, “Has copyright ever prevented you from creating a film in the manner you planned, such as using archival material?” 82% said yes, while 14% said no and the remaining 4% answered ‘not applicable.’

The survey then asked, “As a documentary filmmaker, on balance do you feel that copyright laws are more beneficial to you as a creator, or more harmful to you in restricting your use of copyright material?” 85% said that copyright has become more harmful to creation while 10% said that copyright has become more beneficial.

Another question was, “Have you had trouble finding affordable archival material?” 88% responded saying yes while 12% said no.

The survey also included many responses that elaborate on the frustrations and difficulties documentary film makers have personally faced.

“Given the potential costs of litigating such IP [Intellectual Property] matters and the vague legislation facing documentary filmmakers, rights holders have in some cases been able to charge inflated license fees which far exceed the market rate for such property. As a result, filmmakers are forced to pay increasingly high costs to use music or film clips in their works. This creates a divide among documentary filmmakers – those who can afford to pay, and those who cannot.” The open letter goes on to say “The heart and soul of our White Paper proposals are the following:

1) Modify fair dealing. The “fair dealing” defence in the Copyright Act is designed to respect freedom of expression, balancing the rights of authors with the public good. However, the categories of fair dealing are too narrow to accommodate many otherwise fair treatments of pre-existing content common to documentary films, including parody, sampling and social commentary. […]

2) Protect creativity, not technology. We understand this government is considering extending legal protection to digital rights management (DRMs) and technological protection measures (TPMs). The locks created by this software may make it impossible to allow broader fair dealing, granting censorship powers to media companies. […]

3) Reform the “unlocatable copyright owner” regime.”

The letter continues with many other demands. Michael Geist noted a recent case where Bev Oda, the Minister of Heritage, chose “to ignore concerns about the potential abuse of author’s rights” and cites the Appropriation Arts Coalition who have been frustrated by the minister’s responses. Such frustrations expressed by the Coalition over Bev Oda have been expressed before. The coalition isn’t alone when it comes to friction with the minister either.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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