I’m a screenwriter. I write for television and the web, and I’m lucky enough to make a reasonably good living. I pay a mortgage and taxes, send kids to camp and tap lessons, and keep the local sushi restaurant in business. In other words, I’m a contributing member of our society. The money I make writing goes back into the economy.
Copyright protects my ownership in my writing, allowing me to make a living from it. But the proposed changes in Bill C-32 to how copyright currently works take rights away from me and will make paying the mortgage a whole lot harder.
I’m not alone. Thousands of artists work in the creative industries and rely on the protections of the Copyright Act: writers, musicians, actors, and photographers among them. Our work is easily reproduced, and copyright is a way of saying, “I made this and I have a right to profit from it when others make copies.”
We need to modernize Canadian copyright law. The digital era is making it easier than ever to copy my work. Backing up, time-shifting, and moving content from one storage medium to another are normal activities that people perform every day. I’m glad that the proposed revisions to the law decriminalize these activities.
Making these kinds of copies should be legal; it just shouldn’t be free.
New copyright legislation should balance the needs of the creator and the consumer. With the legalization of time-shifting and format-shifting, consumers get the green light on PVRs, DVD recorders, hard-drive storage, iPods, and more. Not only that but the expansion of “private purposes” means that people can share all the music and films and audiobooks they have with all their friends. Great.
But my kids still need braces. By failing to give creators and copyright holders any way to profit from these new legal uses, the government is taking money right out of our pockets.
And not only does the proposed legislation require us to subsidize individual users, but we also have to give our work away in large quantities to educational institutions. The government wouldn’t think of letting students go into shops and help themselves to pens, paper, and erasers without paying for them just because they need them for school. So why is it okay to do this with the work of writers, directors, photographers, and other artists?
There is a good alternate solution available. A solution that balances the needs of digital consumers with those of creators. That gives users expanded fair access and gives makers some revenue. And it’s a solution that is already in use in Canada today: that workable model is private copying.
Right now, when you buy a blank cassette or a recordable CD, you pay a small levy. You probably don’t even know that it’s included in the purchase price. But this small amount buys you the right to copy material to a recordable CD or tape cassette. The levy money is distributed among music copyright holders.
CD or tape cassette sounds pretty old-school now, but this levy was introduced when these were the state-of-the-art recordable media and we were all dancing the Macarena. You pay this levy today when you buy a recordable CD (or cassette, if you can find one), but not when you buy a hard drive, iPod, smartphone, PVR, or any of the other storage media in common use today.
Why not extend the private copy levy to all storage media? The act of copying is the same, no matter what the destination medium. Consumers would have the right to copy with ease and creators and copyright holders would get paid for their work.
There’s another important benefit. A technology-neutral private copy levy would mean that the Copyright Act would adapt to the ever-changing technological landscape and wouldn’t have to be rewritten every few years.
We need new copyright laws. They should be fair and forward-looking. They should provide additional uses to consumers, but balance them with a technology-neutral private copy levy that compensates creators for those new uses.
Then you can download a TV show to your hard drive or record it to your PVR to watch later, burn an audiobook to a DVD to listen to in the car, or copy a movie onto your child’s iTouch. And I’ll be able to pay the roofer who’s re-shingling my house as I write.
Jill Golick, a screenwriter, is president of the Writers Guild of Canada, a national organization representing more than 2,000 professional screenwriters working in English-language TV, film, and digital media.