Geek Speak: Chris Brand, cofounder of Vancouver Fair Copyright Coalition

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      Chris Brand says copyright law affects him more at home than at work. The 41-year-old London-born software developer is closely watching the Canadian government’s consultations on copyright, which wrap up on September 13. The government plans to introduce new copyright legislation in the fall.

      The Entertainment Software Association of Canada, representing video-game companies, is calling for legislation that protects digital locks, or what they call technological protection measures. What are your thoughts on that?

      Well, first of all, it’s been shown time and time again that the locks are always broken. I don’t have a problem with it being illegal to break locks in order to infringe copyright. That seems perfectly reasonable to me. The problem I have is Bill C-61 would have made it illegal to break these locks even for the purposes that aren’t infringing. My example is the region coding on the DVDs that I bought in England that I can’t play on my Canadian DVD player without breaking the protection on them. There’s lots of other examples of, you know, perfectly legitimate uses of copyright works that are prevented by these locks to some extent, and you have to break the locks in order to use the work even as it was intended to be used.

      The Songwriters Association of Canada is proposing that music file-sharers pay a monthly fee that would be passed on to music creators. What do you think of that idea?

      It’s an interesting one. I’ve never used file-sharing networks myself. So, I don’t have a strong point of view on that. I do think that, even if file sharing is made completely illegal, I don’t think you’re going to stop it, from a practical point of view. I don’t have a strong opinion on that one.

      How do your views maybe differ from that of large software companies?

      A lot of it’s about the control. I think a lot of the large software companies feel that they produce a product, and they want the purchaser of that product to use it in a very limited way that’s exactly the way they see it being used. Whereas I see that, once I’ve purchased something, it’s mine. The original person who created that should have no say in what I do with that property. Same way, if I buy a chair, I’m perfectly at liberty to use it to stand on to change a light bulb or something like that, even if the creator intended that I’d use it to sit on. I guess that’s a fundamental difference between the two. I’m a very strong believer in real property rights. If I buy something, it’s mine.

      In the long term, how you think Canada should approach copyright reform?

      I think it’s important to recognize that we’ve got all these wonderful new technologies that enable a lot of new things—both commercial activities and non-commercial activities. We should be looking to take advantage of that rather than trying to basically put the something back in the bottle. What’s the phrase? You know what I mean: trying to basically prevent these technologies from doing what they can do, because we’re trying to protect the way things have been done in the past. I think it’s important not to idolize these particular business models that have worked in the past, when making copies was expensive. Now, making copies is pretty much free. That enables a whole wave of new possibilities. Let’s take advantage of that, rather than trying to prevent it.

      Every Friday, Geek Speak catches up with someone in Vancouver’s technology sector, video-game industry, or social-media scene. Who should we interview next? Tell Stephen Hui on Twitter at



      Tony Chung

      Sep 3, 2009 at 12:51pm

      Chris identified the intellectual property paradox: An end user license agreement always states that the "product" is only licensed, not sold. By this definition, the end user doesn't actually buy the product, they only purchase a license to use the product. As the tools available to consumers become more highly advanced, it becomes easier to violate the conditions of that license through common, everyday use.

      For instance, a user might expect to be able to copy media from a purchased CD or DVD onto their portable electronic device for their personal use. In doing so, that user risks violating the two main clauses of that license:
      1) the product may not be reverse engineered, converted, or transferred
      2) the product may not be electronically transmitted

      While I agree that content creators need protection from illegal sale and or unintended use of their product, I can't help but think that the main purpose of copyright law is to protect the administrative system behind those products, and not the creators themselves. If the industry didn't invest so heavily in manufacturing pop stars, and more independent content creators took advantage of online distribution networks, we would see an increase in diversity and quality available to the masses. People don't have a problem supporting quality product. They just need to be educated.