Tuesday, December 09, 2014

blame the author

Canadian Author Attacked for Defending Rights

Folks from all over the world are gathered this week in Geneva, Switzerland to attend the World Intellectual Property Organization's (WIPO's) 29th session of the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights. Everyone can follow these talks on Twitter at #SCCR29, and live webcasts of the plenary sessions are available here.

Up for discussion at WIPO are proposed new copyright exceptions for libraries and educational institutions.

Knowing from painful personal experience how badly discussions like this can end, Canada's writers and publishers have made sure we are well represented at these international talks, with accredited delegates from the International Authors Forum (of which I am the current Chair) and the Canadian Copyright Institute (of which The Writers' Union of Canada is a founding member) in attendance.

Both IAF and CCI have today made presentations at a WIPO side event, during which we focused on the damaging unintended consequences of poorly conceived exceptions to copyright. The Canadian example of educational fair dealing is at the centre of these presentations, with emphasis on the disastrous loss of income to authors and publishers resulting from this 2012 change to our domestic Copyright Act. The current count on lost income for Canadian writers and publishers tops out at $30.8 million dollars per year.

That's $30.8 million dollars, annually, removed from the Canadian cultural economy, while educational costs rise unabated and library budgets are under continuous threat. Is it any wonder Canadian cultural workers are standing as the international canary in the coal mine for "free culture"? Instead of denying cultural creators our established markets and earned incomes, why aren't we all focusing on funding libraries and education properly so they can afford to pay for the work they are using in ever greater volume?

Sadly and predictably, the IAF and CCI presentations in Geneva quickly attracted a now standard free-culture attack on authors. While IAF representative Katie Webb presented her observations of the Canadian fair dealing debacle, someone from a group called Knowledge Ecology International (KEI) tweeted this:

This is a stock free-culture tactic - assert loudly and without any shame that anyone defending copyright hates the user community. I was as unsurprised as I was disgusted to see that tweet come through my feed. KEI's slogan is "attending and mending the knowledge ecosystem" - although that activity apparently does not include fact-checking its own claims.

Margaret Atwood is, of course, one of the world's most vocal and high-profile defenders of libraries. She was the public face and voice of the Toronto Public Library Workers Union's campaign to save the TPL budget from municipal budget cuts in 2014. She was even involved in a high-profile spat with then Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's city councillor brother, Doug, over the library-funding issue.

For the record, here is Margaret Atwood on libraries - not hating, in fact, but loving:

Canadian writers sit on library boards, often we are librarians and library workers, we read our work in library reading series, we write, teach, and mentor other writers in libraries, our works are collected and generously lent for free through libraries, and we regularly hit the streets to demand better funding for our public library systems. These activities and our demand that copyright be vigorously protected are not in conflict. In fact, they are mutually supportive. What will we collect in libraries if writers can no longer afford to write, and publishers can no longer afford to publish? That free culture theorists would try to pit libraries against writers while offering nothing in terms of increased budgets or lowered costs tells you everything you need to know about the real agenda here.

I hope the assembled delegates in Geneva notice and pay attention to this ongoing attack on authorship. There will be no knowledge ecosystem to attend or mend if we don't protect creators.

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