Ferne Downey: Performers seek made-in-Canada consensus solution to copyright

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      By Ferne Downey

      The conversation about copyright is frequently split into two camps—the makers and the users. The people who often get left out are those of us in the middle, the performers who breathe life into the work. Repeatedly, ACTRA is erroneously lumped in with the corporate interests of big record companies or Hollywood film studio behemoths. Unusual bedfellows indeed. We’re a union of professional performers. Studios and producers are our employers—employers we took a strike against in 2007 in order to get fair compensation for our work in digital media.

      It may seem obvious why big studios and consumers are passionate about copyright, but perhaps not always so clear what interest an actor has in it. The fact is audio-visual artists—including actors like myself—have next to no rights in Canadian copyright law. Zippity-do-dah. Lawyers will talk about it in more accurate legal terms, but I’m an actor and that’s what we call it. As performers, our only source of protection are the collective agreements our union negotiates for us. Without ACTRA, I wouldn’t have any claim to a cast credit on a TV show or residuals from any of the work I do in all forms of recorded media. That’s why we’re passionate about having our laws modernized to include new rights for audio-visual performers.

      As performers, we always seek audiences; we absolutely want “users” to see and share our work. We embrace new technology that allows more people to see more of our work when and where they want to see it. When we buy a CD or a DVD, we should be able to legally copy it on all our personal devices, computers, iPods, phones, and so on. That’s why one of ACTRA’s priorities is expanding the private copying regime. Private copying has put millions of dollars directly into the pockets of singers and musicians since it was introduced in 1999. One decade later, that regime applies to devices people hardly use today—blank audio cassettes, mini-discs, and CD-Rs. We believe it makes sense to update that levy to devices that people actually use today and continue to provide modest remuneration to performers. We also need to expand those rights now only available to audio artists to audio-visual artists.

      While we need to make sure artists are compensated for their work and able to pay their bills, for performers, copyright reform is about much more than money. We also want to have the basic right to control our image. For actors, our image is intrinsically connected to everything we do. That’s why ACTRA is pressing for “moral rights”—the basic right to get credited for our work or object to an unauthorized distortion or use of our performance.

      It’s getting embarrassing—and economically damaging—that Canada has failed to modernize our national copyright law in keeping with international norms, something we signalled we would do by signing the World Intellectual Property Organization Internet treaties in 1997. The one upside to lagging so far behind the rest of the world in updating our copyright laws is that we can draw upon the lessons learned by others and find the best, most effective tools. We’re not advocating Canada adopt “American-style” laws, or “European-style” laws for that matter. What we are advocating is a made-in-Canada solution that takes lessons from what has worked and hasn’t worked around the world and tailors them to suit our needs.

      Copyright is a contentious issue; I’m under no illusion that anyone is going to magically come up with a comprehensive copyright regime that pleases everyone. Put three random people in a room to talk about copyright and chances are they’ll find something to disagree on. It’s this lack of consensus that has repeatedly derailed attempts to update Canada’s embarrassingly out-of-date laws.

      This old approach of sitting in separate corners has failed and served no one. The only way we are going to move forward is to talk about what we do agree upon and find a consensus. Let’s find that balance between users, makers, and creators. That’s what ACTRA is hoping for in the current round of federal-government copyright consultations.

      Ferne Downey is the president of ACTRA, the national union representing over 21,000 professional performers in English-language recorded media in Canada. She has worked for 30 years as an actor in television, film, live theatre, and radio. Downey has been deeply involved in advocating for the rights of fellow  performers since first being elected to ACTRA’s council in 1991.




      Aug 25, 2009 at 6:08pm

      Overall, well written article. I appreciate the fact the writer was keen enough to notice many people hate industry lobbyists. What I dont agree on, is the proposition that actors be given special treatment. Dont get me wrong, I think all entertainers, creators should have the right to at least be named for their works. I will however, agree with the writer on is the lack of consensus in copyright reform. Every group has a different interest. Which is why copyright legislation will inherently fail if the majority is not satisfied (likely wont be). Fingers crossed for an election in the fall and then we do this all over again next summer if the next govt tries to push this again.

      Robert Smits

      Aug 26, 2009 at 7:59am

      Well, she's dead wrong about us needing to sign on to copyright changes to meet WIPO. We already do.

      And I'm absolutely opposed to expanding the media levy on recordable media to other things like .mp3 players, etc. The current copyright collective has shown that it has no oversight, no imperative other than trying to find new ways to gouge Canadians and I don't trust them an inch.

      Copyright term needs to be reduced to something like patent legislation - about 20 years, and I see no reason whatever for actors to have special rights in the work they perform, beyond what they negotiate into their agreements with their employers.


      Aug 26, 2009 at 8:08am

      Is she advocating that we should have levies on iPods, etc. as well as what we already have levies on??


      Aug 26, 2009 at 8:41am

      Moral rights, in their various forms, have never allowed unabashed freedom to dictate how content may be used, but only to prevent content from being used in such a way as to cause significant reputational damage, judged not solely on the whim of the creator, but also on the opinions of fellow creators. Canada already has fairly good moral rights legislation (and supporting case law)--why is enhancement of moral rights beyond the current system warranted?


      Aug 27, 2009 at 11:11am

      The private copying levy has contributed millions of dollars into artists' pockets. Check out the stats - http://cpcc.ca/english/infoCopyHolders.htm It just makes sense to expand it to iPods.

      Robert Smits - how are we actually WIPO compliant? There may be disagreements on what we need to do to meet our WIPO obligations, but where do you get the idea that we're already compliant? You're the one who's wrong bud.


      Aug 28, 2009 at 5:56pm

      Long before the WIPO internet treaty was signed, ACTRA willingly participated in a series of precedents that have excluded it from contention in the copyright wars. As a "national union" ACTRA, once a professional association, now represents employees who have no, and can have no, statutory right, moral or otherwise, in the material they mediate. What's next? Will teachers (also employees) be asserting a moral right in the textbooks they quote to their students? Ms. Downey doesn't know what she's talking about, but then she's certainly not the first ACTRA prez of whom that could be said.


      Sep 3, 2009 at 12:02pm

      Sounds like Allano has a real axe to grind. Not sure what precedents you refer to or what you mean by copyright wars. Just sounds like you have a hate on for ACTRA.