ZeroPaid Interviews Russell McOrmond – Part 2 of 3

In part 1 of the three part interview with Russell McOrmond, there was discussion on topics such as ISP liability, privacy, and Michael Geist. Part 2 continues with a number of broad topics.

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

(Authors note: This portion of the interview took place on February 22nd.)

Part 1 of this interview available here.

Part 3 of this interview available here.

ZeroPaid: There is some doubt in the air whether or not Jim Prentice’s current copyright reform bill will actually see the light of day given that there is the potential for an election, not to mention that there is rumors that the bill was delayed again just after a coalition of businesses started to get a balanced copyright reform bill tabled. Late last year, there was an interesting comment made by Access Copyright which says, “after a great deal of pressur[e] from a protest group regarding the tabling of this bill (most notably within the blogosphere), the much awaited amendments to the Copyright Act may be put on hold indefinitely.” While, in the opinion of some, that may be a bit of a stretch, in light of all that has happened since the end of last year, would you say there may be an element of truth to what they said after all? Some say that the delays in copyright reform bill, even though there is some needed copyright reforms that everyone can agree on, may not be so bad given that the laws could have pushed Canada towards a more US style copyright law system. Would that be agreeable in your mind? Could there be something to fear should there be a majority government on the copyright end of things given that a succession of minority governments have already prevented what many are calling a “Canadian DMCA”? You helped organize petitions for. Meanwhile, there seems to be a lot of more pro-consumer stuff coming from the NDP – most notably Charlie Angus. It almost seems like the copyright debate is, in fact, a partisan issue in many ways. Is it a partisan issue when it all hits the fan or is there evidence to suggest otherwise? Given the track record of copyright reform bills, is it fair to say that it’s going to be really hard to avoid US style copyright laws since both the major parties in Canada have endorsed such laws at one point or another?

Russell McOrmond: There are many competing dynamics at play in my opinion.

I’ll start with the political parties. I don’t consider this a partisan issue as none of the parties are really any better than the other. What we have had is individual people, such as Charlie Angus, who have entered the house with a modern view of these issues.

As grateful as I am for the work of Charlie Angus, I don’t believe people should confuse this as the view of the NDP as a party given there are other elements in the same party who have very different views. Much of the pressure to adopt “stronger” copyright (copyright more in the favour of incumbent copyright holders) comes from the various creator and union associations. This means that the NDPs close tie with the labour movement also creates a strong tie with existing groups within Canada that believe in policy changes that would make the USA’s DMCA look quite progressive.

The pressure for that direction in the law is not only from the USA, but also from within Canada. If it was only foreign pressure it would be far easier to handle. Trying to suggest we are different than the USA is a favourite political pastime in Canadian politics. On the other hand, if we get involved we can have a much better influence on these domestic interests groups than we can on foreign groups.

While there are people like Charlie Angus who I trust to work towards modernizing Copyright, there are then people like Hedy Fry who I have all but given up on. I try not to comment on individual politicians until I have met them in person. Some of my worst encounters were with Sheila Copps and Sarmite Bulte, neither of which are currently in the House of Commons, and Hon. Hedy Fry (Vancouver Center). I consider it a coincidence that these people are all from the Liberal party of Canada, not a sign that we should give up on the Liberal party. I have also met other Liberals which I have found very helpful towards what I consider to be positive policy, with Hon. Reg Alcock being an example of someone currently not in the house.

‘Sam’ Sarmite Bulte, a Liberal Member of Parliament who, under the Liberal government, tabled the previous copyright reform bill. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

One thing that I believe is that the more time passes, the more informed people become. My own understanding of these issues has greatly improved since I became involved in 2001.

There will be groups who have been involved in the Copyright debate for several decades, and who thought they owned the debate, that will be upset at this educational process. This includes members of the Creators Copyright Coalition (DAMIC in Quebec). Their choice to include collective societies like Access Copyright (a controversial administration body for a specific business model option) within their group, but not include anyone from the technical community, creative
commons, or other such perspectives shows just how narrow they are looking at the issue. That said, there are individual people within these groups who have a wide variety of views, and the historical fear of new technology and business methods isn’t something that is going to remain in these groups forever.

Access Copyright suggesting the bill is delayed, and blaming “bloggers”, is their way to encourage their membership to get more politically involved and push harder for the proposals that Access Copyright has been pushing. Neither the bill being delayed forever, nor the suggestion that bloggers influenced the policy, are likely true — that is just a political tool.

Tabling of the bill is still on the notice paper, meaning that the bill can be tabled without additional notice. People should not get complacent in believing that a bill is delayed and they don’t need to be actively involved right away.

While the Facebook group received a lot of media attention, it should be obvious from the public statements from the Business Coalition for Balanced Copyright that the larger business community has also been in touch with the government. It is far more likely that this is the influence than a few thousand Facebook users.

I think this area of policy comes down to the personal experience of individuals. We need to do everything we can to share what we are experiencing with others, and to become more involved. No matter what type of creativity you are involved with, there is an association that can use your help to better understand the benefits and other implications of modern technology.

We also need to become far more aware of individuals running for elected office. If we consider these issues to be important we have to look past the party labels to the individual experiences of the candidates.

I don’t know if we will see an election soon or in 2009 as otherwise planned. I don’t know if a Copyright bill will be tabled before the election, and if so whether it will have passed or fall off the order paper when the election is called. Even if a bill has been tabled and passed, this should not be considered the end of this conversation. A future government can undo any bad decisions made by current governments, so we need to keep the campaign going.

Do you know where your current MP stands on these issues? Do you know who the nominated candidates are that will be running in your riding in the future election, and where they stand? If not, why not?

(Authors note: The next series of questions were answered on February 27th)

ZP: How do you see the YouTube revolution? Has it boosted the so-called ‘remix culture’ or is it more of just simply watching an extension of TV? The EFF says that Adobe is contemplating putting DRM into their Flash player. Do you think this would have an impact on the YouTube crowd?

RM: I believe that YouTube is an innovation that was enabled by important transformative changes, but it is not itself that change. (The concept of a “transformative change” comes from Clayton M. Christensen’s book “Innovators Dilemma”).

There are two key transformative changes at work:

– the move from legacy “smart network, dumb terminals” used by the phone and broadcasting networks (television, radio), to the End-to-End design of “dumb network, smart terminals” of the real Internet.
– tools used to create, edit, distribute and access creative content being able to be owned and controlled by individual citizens who can then participate in culture.

On top of these two changes can be built a whole host of things such as Google,, YouTube, Wikipedia, SourceForge, Creative Commons, blogs/podcasting/vlogs, FLOSS, Open Access, etc.

The network changes don’t get rid of old media (point-to-point voice, broadcast audio and video), but offer these mechanisms as tiny subsets of the broader possibilities with the new medium. Any new type of communications can be negotiated between two endpoints on the network because they are able to own and control their own technology. Whether those endpoints are broadcasters, new media companies, or individual citizens doesn’t matter to the network or the citizen owned and controlled technology.

This is why I focus much of my policy work on protecting these innovations, whether that be opposition to “DRM”, interface copyrights, and software patents, or my strong support for “Net Neutrality”.

As a company, Adobe is not a fan of owner control over software and software choice. While Microsoft and Apple get most of the negative publicity on issues around anti-competitive behaviour, proprietary software, software patents, and digital rights management, Adobe is one of the key opponents to new-media within the Business Software Alliance (BSA). The BSA is a key member of the IIPA, which is a primary source for the United States Trade Representative intellectual property reports pushing against citizen ownership/control of technology.

Adobe wants the same thing that Microsoft and Apple wants, which is to own and control the platform that people use to communicate. This is the definition of an anti-trust or competition policy issue, but unfortunately I have found that the quickest way to turn off the brains of politicians, policy makers and bureaucrats is to throw misinformation about technology into the mix.

This policy confusion demonstrates one of the many ways in which software and other intangibles are not at all like tangible property (See: Jefferson Debate: A Godwin’s law for copyright discussions?). If we were talking about the tied selling between two tangible products, or the removal of ownership control over something tangible, lawmakers would clearly make that illegal. Instead with this debate we have lawmakers giving legal protection for harmful activities which they would otherwise make illegal.

With the Adobe Flash issue it is important to not get distracted. The important question is who decides what rules the software on our computer is obeying (the owner of the software author), not only how much content will only interoperate with the specific brand of software. See: Even in the “DRM” debate, Content is not King. The file format is only important in that it encourages/imposes specific brands of locked down hardware/software on people.

I have watched YouTube videos using GNASH and the YouTube viewer on my Neuros OSD. Neither uses any software from Adobe. The more people use alternatives to Adobe software for Flash and PDF, the less control Adobe will be able to abuse.

ZP: How is the open source movement doing these days in your mind? There seems to be more businesses accepting the movement as opposed to the attitude of, as the famous line from Microsoft went a few years ago, ‘a
Cancer’. Has the movement gone towards a corporate setting more or is there a particular direction the movement is headed more than any other direction?

RM: I think we are nearing the end of “then they fight you” in the GandhiCon, but we haven’t yet won that fight.

There are very few people who would want to embarrass themselves by showing a lack of knowledge about FLOSS and suggest it is a cancer. It has proven itself to be a viable method of producing, distributing and resourcing software. Few claim that there is no money to be made or saved using these methods given how much economic success there has been.

There have been legal and economic textbooks such as Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom which explain how the underlying production methodology works.

Those who were successful using legacy methods are not being phased out without a fight. Rather than trying to claim publicly that FLOSS is “a Cancer”, they have now set their sights largely at policy makers. The push has been to confuse governments around things such as DRM and software patents. These are policies which have nothing to do with protecting innovation and creativity, and everything to do with protecting incumbent software manufacturing vendors from FLOSS competitors.

This is part 2 of this interview with Russell McOrmond. Part 1 is available here.

Part 3 of this interview is available here.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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