Marian Hebb: Collective licensing would help Canadian writers get paid on-line

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      By Marian Hebb

      Copyright infringement has become a habit for many ordinary Canadians—at school, at work, and at home. When they scan a short story or an article, or download a photograph from a Web site and send it to family, friends, and colleagues without permission, they are infringing copyright.

      Most professional writers do not want to stop this. Many do it themselves. They want what they write to be read as widely as possible, but they want their authorship to be acknowledged and they need to be paid. The average annual income of a freelancer (including part-timers with some employment income) was only about $21,000 in 2005.

      Well over a decade since Canada signed the World Intellectual Property Organization treaties intended to bring copyright laws around the world into sync with the new digital environment, it is astonishing that Canada has still not implemented and ratified these treaties concluded in 1996. Successive Canadian governments have introduced copyright legislation—the Liberals’ Bill C-60 and the Conservatives’ Bill C-61—but both died on the order paper. Recently the United States put Canada on its Priority Watch List of countries that do the least to protect copyright, no doubt expecting higher standards from Canada than from piracy havens such as China and others on the list.

      Since 1996, there have been extensive consultations on copyright by government with stakeholders. In 2004, there were lengthy hearings by a committee of members of Parliament, who listened to a litany of justified and unjustified fears and hopes from creators and users. The committee then recommended changes to the Copyright Act to which the Liberal government paid little heed when it introduced its Bill C-60 in 2005.

      The changes recommended by the Canadian heritage committee would have strengthened collective licensing and made it easier for users to copy copyright materials and easier for creators to get paid for their work. Existing collective societies, including Access Copyright, representing writers and other rights holders of literary and artistic works, grant licences, collect payments, and distribute payment to rights holders, mostly based on surveys of use.

      Bill C-60 and Bill C-61 were reasonable efforts to deal with digital developments, though they were less creator-friendly than what the Canadian heritage committee had recommended. Bill C-61, which had a first reading in Parliament in June 2008, startled writers with its radical provisions for format shifting. A book, magazine, or newspaper or substantial chunks from them would be downloadable from the Internet by a single individual onto a variety of devices for private use, unless doing so were to breach a contract or circumvent a technological measure.

      Both bills contained a provision that would allow nonprofit libraries to deliver articles and extracts from books over the Internet directly to patrons of other libraries. This free digital delivery (bizarrely often called “interlibrary loan”) would be an enormous boon to library users—a group that includes writers—but also an enormous problem for writers, who need payment for their work in order to continue to produce it. Will public libraries eventually find themselves unnecessary middlemen when patrons don’t have to go to the library to “borrow” materials? Entire library books may be next in line to go on-line in Canada. This is already underway in the United States with the proposed Google Book Search settlement.

      In response to pressure from educators for free access to “publicly available materials” on the Internet, Bill C-61 introduced an exception from copyright for schools for legitimately posted materials unprotected by technical measures. Who wants to complain about accessibility? But creators want to be paid for school as well as library and other uses and consequently are looking for ways to “monetize the Internet”.

      The Internet has made copying very easy. It is not possible for an individual writer to monitor the uses of his work on the Internet, but copyright collectives representing many rights holders can protect their collective interests while offering licences that provide easy access to their works to schools, libraries, and others.

      The collective society model has worked well in the past and, with minimal supportive legislation from Parliament, is a model that could be transferred easily to the Internet. This would likely mean a small subscription increase, payable by users to their Internet service provider, to cover most copyright material they can download freely from the Internet. That money would go to collective societies and would be distributed to the writers and other rights holders whom they represent. Everyone would have easy and lawful access to most materials on the Internet, but rights holders would be paid.

      Marian Hebb of Hebb & Sheffer is a lawyer who advises individual writers and writers’ organizations on copyright and other matters.




      Jul 22, 2009 at 5:51am

      Just your mention of Canada being on the US' Priority Watch List completely discredits you and your position, given how widely it's understood in the copyright arena that that list is bogus and nothing more than an attempt by the US to bully other countries into implementing their "police state" DMCA.

      "Since 1996, there have been extensive consultations on copyright by government with stakeholders. ". Oh yeah? Were actual Canadian consumers included in any of those consultations? I think not.

      Just the fact that you think that "Bill C-61 [was] reasonable" also discredits your position. You are nothing but another levy-promoting do-gooder trying to dig your hand into as many Canadians' pockets as you can. If your profession is not paying you enough, get another job. I certainly won't miss reading tripe like this.

      That you believed Bill-C61 was good in that it allowed Canadians "provisions for format shifting ... unless doing so were to breach a contract or circumvent a technological measure" also shows how shallow your thinking is on this subject.

      The format shifting that it allowed was useless. It only allowed the kind of "lossy" format-shifting that would make the copy basically useless. i.e. you would be allowed to point a camcorder at a television set to format-shift a DVD. What an enjoyable experience it would be to watch that format-shifted copy; in other words: a useless copy.

      And don't forget the provision that format-shifting is only allowed as long as one doesn't need to break a digital lock to do the shifting. So guess what the natural progression is with that condition. Yes, everything ever published has a digital lock on it, thereby rendering the right to format-shift completely useless. This "empty offer" was included to try to fool Canadians (as it did you) into thinking they were getting something out of Bill C-61. Yeah, we were getting something alright. The shaft.


      Jul 22, 2009 at 5:23pm

      The author looks to be the age of most politicians who are behind these various corporate lobbied bills; and whom have not a clue about how the internet in general is used by people under the age of 45. I suggest doing some reading on the issue Ms Hebb before writing anymore ridiculous commentaries that only show your age and ignorance of the information superhighway.


      Jul 23, 2009 at 2:51am

      I'm an author of copyrighted material in an industry where an estimated 95% of products are "pirated". You can download my work on any torrent site. I still manage to get paid quite well for it. Society doesn't owe me a living just because of what I choose to do.

      The system the author proposes has worked out so well for the music industry, she says we should apply it to books. But wait, most musicians don't see a dime from the millions of dollars collected every year from the levy applied to every recordable CD sold in this country.

      The people reading this would better spend their time reading up on the origins of copyright, fair use and the social contract that is copyright.

      Copyright is a right given to individuals by society for a limited time and with specific limitations -- for the benefit of society. The copyright bills the author references stomp all over society's benefits from providing the individual with copyright in the first place. That the author promotes them shows that she either doesn't understand them, or she sees a way to personally profit from them.

      Honestly, lawyers like her are more of a problem for me than the people copying my stuff on the internet. Maybe we should socialize the legal profession. You can only be a lawyer if you're a member of the society, every member of the society gets the same pay, and there is a tax to cover the costs. Not having to shell out unreasonable legal fees would be great.


      Jul 23, 2009 at 1:29pm

      Yup, the author here is just regurgitating the usual BS from the copyright cartels. No surprise that the author thinks C-61 was fair as she makes her living representing artists and obviously doesn't care about a fair deal for you and I.

      The concern over libraries lending digital copies to their patrons shows is pure greed. These copies almost always have DRM, can't easily be copied and expire after a period of time. The author claims that authors want to be paid for educational uses. Well the Copyright Board of Canada released a decision on June 26 2009 that raised the reproduction levy imposed on school boards to 5.16$ per student from 2.45$ retroactive to 2005. Schools still buy books for their students, they shouldn't be forced to pay an additional levy for Internet access.


      Aug 26, 2009 at 8:46am

      Musicians don't see a dime? Do any of you actually know how private copying has benefitted artists? Educate yourselves -

      And if artists can't make money they should get another job? Maybe the better approach is let's stop pretending we should get all the music and movies we want for free. If only rich artists can produce works, my hunch is we'll just end up with more Britney Spears and Terminator blockbusters. How enjoyable.


      Sep 3, 2009 at 10:49pm

      Distributing money fairly from a central pool to thousands of creators (of greatly varing size and quality) is very costly and will still be unfair. Though I gotta admit, at least this approach is better than suing single mothers for $80,000 per song!
      Many dowloaders, if they like the product, go out and buy it if they want to show support to creators; I know I do. If the creators, still can't survive, then they really aren't offering what the market is looking for. Just because you worked your ass off to create a song, doesn't automatically entitle you to receive money from it; it just entitles you to earnings if someone CHOSES to pay for your song.
      Excessive piracy will hurt small creators/artists the least (in fact it gives them free publicity, drawing in more fans, if they're good). Such people get most money from live gigs, not albums. You also don't know how P2P works - the more known the artist, higher the demand, the better the download. Torrents for little known work fizzle out quickly; it is the big blockbusters that are easily shared in the tens of thousands.