Today is the last day that the House of Commons legislative committee on Bill C-32 is accepting submissions regarding possible amends to Bill C-32, our latest attempt to amend the Copyright Act. What follows is my submission to them. It is definitely not very formal and contains no real proposed amendments—many more knowledgeable people have already made such submissions, and I defer to them in that area of expertise. Nevertheless, I felt that it was important to have my voice heard.
Dear Legislative Committee on Bill C-32,
I am not a pirate.
Hard to believe, I know. The current draft of Bill C-32 seems to imply that piracy is rampant in Canada, and in particular among the demographic to which I belong, that of the 18–34-year-old university student. Curiously enough, this perspective corresponds to the one advanced by the industries who distribute music, movies, and media, the very industries who are now complaining that Internet piracy is destroying their business model. While I expect such heated, anti-consumer rhetoric from those industries, who after all are obligated by their shareholders to demonize and portray consumers as immoral beings who will only partake in legally-provided media if they have no other option, I expected better of the Canadian government. My grade 10 Civics class taught me that the government is supposed to recognize the will of the people, not the will of the special interests lobby.
But this is not about the inaccuracy of information in our education systems. This is about Bill C-32, a long-needed overhaul of our outdated Copyright Act. I commend the government for taking on this daunting task. Finding a balance between the interests of consumers and creators is not easy, but it is balance we need. So, I am pleased that you have asked for input from Canadian citizens regarding the current draft of this bill. Were you aware that your esteemed colleagues at Industry Canada consulted Canadians in the summer of 2009 on the previous proposed amendment, Bill C-61? That consultation received over 8000 submissions, 6000 of which were opposed to Bill C-61 and to digital rights management (DRM) locks in general. So, forgive me if I feel like I‘m repeating myself, but I’ve already been through this once.
I am not a pirate. I’m not even a so-called “radical extremist.” I have no desire to eliminate copyright altogether—as a creator myself, I too enjoy the protections that copyright law provides for me. Nevertheless, unlike certain representatives of special interest groups, such as SOCAN and CRIA, I am not naive enough to think that we can blithely continue to the reality of copyright in a digital age. The Internet is a fundamentally new media when it comes to distributing information. The cost of distribution is now effectively zero. Copyright can no longer be about “who has the right to distribute,” because this going to happen anyway. There is no DRM lock that cannot be picked. There is no technological protection measure (TPM) that cannot be circumvented. And so, if you enshrine Bill C-32 as “the digital lock law” and attempt to protect Canadian creators by locking down their creations, you will fail.
You will fail, because I am not a pirate, but other people are. And this bill will not stop them. It won’t even slow them down, not for a minute. Law-abiding citizens like myself will respect it, of course, and we will be stuck in the slow lane of the Internet, waiting for American television shows to come across the border, waiting for a new single to come out on iTunes, waiting for that Brand! New! Movie! with that Hot! Young! Actress! (you know the one I’m talking about) to come out on DVD. We, the law-abiding public, will be waiting, while the pirates will be busy downloading media, not paying for it, and chortling over the incompetence of the Canadian government.
Stopping piracy is a laudable goal, but let us be realistic. You cannot legislate piracy out of existence—by definition, it exists as a reaction against the legal avenues of doing business. And as long as you persist in making Bill C-32 about stopping piracy, about protecting the distributors and, to some extent, the creators, about expressing a fundamental distrust in the electorate of this nation, then you will fail. You will fail, because I am not a pirate, but under the new legislation, I might have to become one. I try my very best, every day, not to pirate media. I do not download songs; I buy them on iTunes. I do not download movies; I record them on my DVR (is that even legal?) when they come on cable television. I do not download books, though I am an avid reader, but instead I visit the library, or I purchase them new as a show of support for the author. I try so very hard, and you are not making it any easier.
I am not a pirate, nor do I want to be. So why not make it easier? Instead of focusing on all of these negative aspects of digital distribution, why not create proactive legislation that encourages the innovation of business models at a digital level? Make it easier for companies like Netflix and Pandora to open their doors in Canada. Make it easier for Canadians to download and stream music, movies, etc., legitimately. Because if you do that, then most Canadians will act in good faith. Most Canadians won‘t pirate but instead pay, because contrary to the opinions expressed by the special interests groups and the lobbyists for the industry, we are not all immoral.
We are not pirates. Most of us don’t even have a Vitamin C deficiency. We are people, and we want our media, and we want it now. Because the Internet is all about instantaneous access to information, and maybe that has spoiled us. Nevertheless, it is reality. The new reality. And passing legislation that ignores this new reality in favour of a rose-coloured glasses version painted by the industry is silly. Copyright can no longer be about “who has the right to distribute,” because our ability to restrict that is gone forever. Instead, copyright needs to be about “who has the right to reuse.” Who has the right to remix, to modify, to make a profit off this material? These are the questions that you, through Bill C-32, have a chance to answer. I am not so convinced you have answered them to anyone’s satisfaction.
Look, it’s not all bad. The expanded fair dealing sounds really good. And I am pleased that Bill C-32, if not perfect, is not quite as insistent upon digital locks as its predecessor was. Whereas Bill C-61 was untenable, something I could not abide, this one is much more workable. In its present form, it is not ideal, but I definitely think that, with a few amendments, you could produce a copyright bill that strikes the right balance. Canada could be an example for the rest of the world of a modern country with modern copyright legislation that takes into account reality, that protects consumers, that protects creators, that encourages digital innovation. Or, you could follow the USA, make a “Canadian DMCA,” and watch piracy continue unabated.
It’s your call, really. I have done my part—twice over, once in the summer of 2009, and now in the winter of 2011. I have worn my fair copyright T-shirt; I have encouraged my fellow citizens to speak out on this issue. But you are the ones who have to listen to us. Listen to us, and hear our concerns. We aren’t asking for anything unreasonable. We aren’t asking that you let us copy entire textbooks for whole classes of students, or that we get to go into a Blockbuster and rip movies from DVDs onto our computers. All we are asking for is fair, balanced copyright legislation that works for us, here and now. So think about it.
This Friday, Saturday, and Sunday I attended the eighth annual Combinatorial Algebra meets Algebraic Combinatorics Conference. No, I didn’t record awesome video diaries as I did when I attended the 2010 Canadian Undergraduate Mathematics Conference. I did meet many experts in these fields, listened to interesting talks that I didn’t really understand, and gave a talk of my own!
Combinatorial algebra and algebraic combinatorics are, as the conference’s title and purpose expresses, two sides of the same mathematical coin. They are areas of mathematics that combine techniques from combinatorics and abstract algebra (notably, commutative algebra) to solve a variety of problems in algebra, combinatorics, and even algebraic geometry. Now, these fields are specialized. I got the impression that even among the thirty or so graduate students, postdocs, and professors in attendance, many of them were struggling to keep up with some of the talks, because the topics in this area, as with any specialized field, can get pretty esoteric. One fellow gave a talk on cluster algebras, and the room was rather silent when it came time for questions.
Still, it was exciting to attend the conference even though I, as an undergraduate student with only two courses of basic abstract algebra under my belt, understood very little of any of the talks. I was invited to speak at the conference by Adam Van Tuyl, chair of our mathematics department and one of the conference organizers. He supervised my summer NSERC USRA. I previously gave a talk about that research in the fall, and he felt it would be a good fit for the conference. I was a little sceptical, not to mention a little intimidated by the notion of talking in front of all these learned academics. Nevertheless, I acquiesced—I mean, that opportunity might not come again. I‘m getting a lot of mileage out of this talk.
If you are interested, I’ve set up a page explaining my research on the spreading and covering numbers. Unless you are familiar with abstract algebra or graph theory, most of it will sound like gibberish, but check it out any way. You can also download a copy of the talk I gave, as well as the Macaulay2 code I wrote.
Giving my talk, which was well-received, was one of the high points of the conference, of course. For one thing, I‘m pretty sure everyone there followed what I was talking about, since I was presenting it on a more elementary level than a postdoc or professor would. And that’s fine. More importantly, a few of the attendees had some interesting ideas that might help me in the future. I am currently applying for another NSERC grant to continue working on this project this summer; hopefully I’ll get the grant and be able to put some of those ideas into practice. If anything, going to the conference has made me more excited about working on this problem again.
Another high point was meeting Tony Geramita. He co-authored the paper that introduces the spreading and covering numbers, essentially making him the originator of what I studied. And he knows his stuff; he seemed to switch gears effortlessly between each talk and ask intelligent questions (or at least, from my limited understanding of the topics, they seemed intelligent) whenever he needed clarification. So meeting him, and giving a talk about these spreading and covering numbers in front of him, was kind of a big deal. Plus, my natural tendency toward introversion means it takes me a while to warm up to new people, especially ones whom I meet in an artificial, arranged way like this.
So imagine my surprise and amusement when, at lunch, I brought out my copy of Forest Mage, and he said, “Ah, you’re reading Robin Hobb.” From there we conversed about our mutual love of science fiction and fantasy. Later, we started talking about eBooks, and he spontaneously asked if I had a thumb drive on me so he could give me a 1 GB library of eBooks he has on his computer. I was somewhat taken aback by this random and generous windfall. (I used my phone, since it had 11 GB free on its internal SD card. I should probably get an external one too.) This unforeseen icebreaker made it easier for me to think of him as a person, not just a Smart Math Individual, and much easier to give my talk.
Saturday night, after the conference, we went to the Masala Grille for dinner. Although my dad and I have ordered takeout from this Indian restaurant in the past, I had never actually been there to eat, so that was an interesting new experience. We had the upper room to ourselves, and the food was good (although I made the mistake of putting too much sauce on my plate). I had some interesting conversation with the people at my table about a variety of things, mathematics and non-mathematics alike, including an opportunity to talk to an Iranian fellow who is at Dalhousie for the summer. This was his first trip outside of Iran, and it was cool to hear about the situation in that country from someone who has grown up and lived there.
All in all, I have to admit the conference was a great experience, even though it did have people at it and did not in fact consist of me sitting in a chair reading a book all weekend. Sacrifices had to be made, and they were worth it! But don’t think this means I’m going to grad school just yet, despite the fact that more-than-hints have started to drop! But that is another topic for another blog post. Now I have to concentrate on finishing the rough draft of my honours thesis, for it is due on Thursday.
This term I’m taking Philosophy & the Internet. Appropriately, it is online; more appropriately, part of our evaluation will be based on how we use an online service—be it a blog, YouTube channel, Facebook page, etc.—to respond critically to four of the weekly readings of our choice. Since I already have a blog, and I‘m lazy, I’m just going to use this one. I thought I should make a post about it first, in part so that other people reading this know what’s going on, but mostly because I don’t want the “philosophy 2715” tag to be empty when I post a link to it on Moodle.
Now, since I like discussing the Internet and technology in general, and I have been known to apply the occasional philosophical eye to previous posts, this will not be strange fare. The format might be slightly different, and I will be referring to things we have discussed in class to which my wider audience will not be privy. You should have registered for the course, suckers.
I’ll likely start posting in two and a half, three weeks, once we start talking about capitalism and the Internet and online surveillance. Until then, here is a topical lolcat while you wait:
Originally I was just going to tweet a link to this CBC news article and leave it at that. The more I thought about it, however, the more outraged I became. I‘m not sure why. Maybe it’s out of some need to feel vicariously oppressed, on account of the fact that I am a tall white male and thus systemically unoppressed. Maybe it’s because, although I am not a professional web designer, I am familiar enough with the field to weep over the attitude displayed here by the government. It is 2011. Last December, the Web turned twenty years old. And we still can’t support blind users? Seriously?
That is what the federal government says. Apparently, rather than spend taxpayer money to pay web designers to update its websites, it would rather spend that money paying lawyers to appeal this court decision. Rather than offer equal services to blind users, it would rather go to court and spend our tax dollars to ensure it can continue discriminating. The government is making us accomplices to discrimination. And here I thought I lived in Canada, not the United States.
I am taking a Philosophy of the Internet course this term, online of course. I’m so excited for it, because the Internet excites me in general. I look around and see all the change that the Internet makes possible; we are living through exciting times, and the world is never going to be the same thanks to the Internet. Not all of this change will be for the better, but when is it ever?
So it pains me that, twenty years after the inception of the Web, there is still a deeply-entrenched attitude among corporations and governments that somehow the Web is not essential and that not everyone need have access to the Web. Increasingly, however, we are seeing more services move to an online platform. If the Web is not essential now, it soon will be. But you know what? According to the government, if you can’t see, then tough luck:
Government lawyers had argued there was no discrimination because those same services are provided in other formats, such as on the phone, in person or by mail.
That’s right: the Web is for sighted people only. That seems to be the stance implicit in this argument, that “other formats” will be available for those people who happen to be visually-impaired. No, no, don’t bother asking the government to make its websites accessible. People with disabilities don’t matter.
There is a word for this behaviour: disgusting.
As an amateur web developer, I pride myself in being aware of Web standards and striving to implement them as faithfully as possible. Fortunately, because I do not get paid by corporate clients to build them websites to which millions of users will flock, because I do not provide any great service to the public, if I happen to make a mistake and render my website inaccessible to blind people, it isn’t a big deal. (And if you are blind and trying to read this and your screen reader is rebelling against you, please let me know so I can try to fix it.)
I don’t think we should let the government just shrug like I can and say, “No big deal, go use the telephone.” Making websites accessible to the blind is not, for the most part, difficult. It requires effort, and depending on what type of data you want to communicate, some creativity. Somehow, I think the ultimate cost of adding that accessibility to its websites would be less than the court costs involved in appealing Justice Kelen’s ruling. More importantly, the government has an obligation to serve its citizens—all of its citizens—and I reject on moral grounds its argument that alternative formats are an excuse for having inaccessible websites.
This is just another incident that underscores our government’s inability to keep pace with the development of life in a digital age. Canadians still have woefully inadequate broadband penetration, something the Conservatives have done little to rectify—and while the Liberals promise more, I don’t believe they would do a much better job. All of our parties are mired in pre-digital perspectives. They are too afraid or too corrupt to take on the telecommunications companies that dominate our Internet and mobile services and squeeze out competition at the price of innovation so that they can make more profit.
In the end, it isn’t just blind people who lose. It isn’t just web designers. It’s everyone. The rest of the world moves forward, and Canada will be left behind in the digital dust. Because our government doesn’t care.
For the third consecutive year I have prepared two top 10 lists of books. One has the best books I read last year, and the other has the worst books.
Recently I completed a new feature for my site, book lists. They do exactly what they sound like: lists of books I‘ve read, with reviews I’ve written on Goodreads. This is all part of a larger work-in-progress, which is a portal that offers an overview of my reading.
Rather than reproduce the list here as I have done in the past, I’ll just link to the two lists. Since book lists do not accept comments, however, please post your comments here!
And you may want to check out the lists from previous years.
I intend to analyze my reading statistics in detail like I did for 2009. Those should be available soon. For now, let me just say that I read 137 books in 2010—fewer than last year’s total, 156 books. My goal for 2011 is 166—I hope to regain my lost ground and better it by ten! Wish me luck.