Geist is Back: The Choirmaster of the Amen Chorus Complains of Orchestration

It may come as a surprise to Michael Geist, but Toronto has been a music town for longer than he has been sucking air on the planet. That is to say Planet Earth, a place that Geist visits from time to time when he’s not hanging out at the US-backed SG-CIPPIC, frolicking in the astroturf and picking up lucrative consulting contracts from the Canada’s Department of Industry.

Canada is in the midst of a series of public roundtables and townhalls conducted by Industry Canada on a new copyright law which have to date been largely populated by “fair copyright” proponents. Surprise, surprise, when the roadshow stopped in Toronto—saints preserve us—music people showed up!! Imagine that—music people show up in a music town. But for Geist, this is not based in reality or a natural occurrence; it is an “orchestrated attempt” of the evil music industry to “stack the deck”.

Stack the deck? Now, in the first place, how did they exactly do that? My understanding is that to get in the door, people had to sign up on-line. Is Geist seriously suggesting that the music industry hacked the government computers to “stack the deck”; or is he suggesting that the government did the music industry the favor on its own?

Let’s take the government of Canada at its word, let’s say they didn’t stuff the ballot box. If it were up to individuals to sign up themselves, then where in the largest city in Canada were the many tens of thousands of copyright reform opponents whom Geist claims to have enlisted to his cause? They obviously just didn’t show up in anything like the tens of thousands I hear about.

Why not? Was Facebook down that day? Maybe they all had homework? Grounded? In class? Not able to travel unsupervised across international borders? (Geist’s Facebook site is not limited to Canadians, and American pirates have just as big a stake in Canada remaining a piracy haven as their fellow Canadian buccaneers.) Or maybe they don’t really exist in the numbers that Geist would have everyone believe. Whatever the reason, why they were no shows is something you would think that the Canadian government needs to question seriously given all the sound and fury from Geist summoning his ghostly online army.

But more importantly, was the town hall REALLY that unbalanced? If you take the time to actually watch the consultation, I think you’ll find that there were many points of view expressed both from the audience and from “first name only” contributors online whose emails were read aloud in the hall.

But do we know the comments really were from Ian in Yellowknife, Celine in Roberval or Leslie in Saskatoon? Did anyone check? It seems they could just as easily have been from the SM-CIPPIC parent pods in Berkeley or Washington, DC.

And then fate delivered one speaker who truly personified the problem that Canada has with the rest of the world—“Simon Shaw.” (Same name as a former Toronto 2003 mayoral candidate per the Toronto Star.) This was a self-professed pirate who told the assembled creators, the Minister and the world: “I operate six terabyte servers of movies that I share freely with my friends all around the world. Most of your works are on my servers.”

If ever there was evidence that the speaking list was by random draw (as Industry Canada says it was) – and that Canada’s copyright laws are seriously FUBAR– it was this guy. He felt comfortable standing up in front of the Minister for Industry and a room in part filled with creators….and TAUNTING THEM. In case there was any doubt, he started listing some of the commercial movie releases he distributes to the world. Are the acts he described not crimes under Canadian law? Is there no better example of how hamstrung Canadian law enforcement is than a self-confessed blatant infringer on a massive scale can taunt a senior bureaucrat at a public meeting and NOTHING happens except thank you Mr. Pirate, next speaker? Notice and notice in action. Nice T-shirt, by the way. Maybe a candidate for the Pirate Party of Canada.

There is a common thread in all of the actions being taken around the world to deal with online piracy, whether it’s two strikes, three strikes, ten strikes—government is finally, finally realizing that they have a serious law enforcement problem on their hands. Except in Canada, apparently. Canada is still arguing about notice and notice and notice and notice and notice and notice and notice….

But Geist is dutifully looking for his wedge issue to drive between artists and other citizens—and here it is (he knew it was in there someplace): “My own view is that it [i.e., there were so many music people] was so over-the-top that their message was lost in light of such an obvious orchestrated attempt to stack the deck.” Bad pun for someone like Geist. (Maybe he’s been spending too much time around Professor Nesson.)

Let me tell you about “orchestrated”. What is “orchestrated” is the payment by Industry Canada of over $1 million to Geist, as touted on his 38 page resume. And what exactly was this money paid for? Apparently it was paid to support The Million Dollar Man while he opines about his views on copyright law and evidently engages in some kind of private dialog with Industry Canada—or is it a monologue? Or notice and notice and notice and notice and notice and notice….

That explains why Geist wasn’t at the townhall: He’d already voiced his opinions behind closed doors – and got paid $1 million for his time, thank you very much. No need to bother with economy class when you’re booked first class. There’s no other evidence I have found that shows exactly what the taxpaying artists got for their money. Are there no rules about this kind of thing?

And then how about the recent sale to US interests of the naming rights to CIPPIC. Does that feel “orchestrated” to you? How about the board membership of CIPPIC? Lawrence Lessig? EFF? How is this a Canadian organization? Starting to hear the amen chorus warming up? Is that orchestrated enough?

So let’s think about the “orchestration” moniker from the choirmaster of the amen chorus. Is it a surprise to anyone that representatives of professional creators including my old friend Marty Simon stepped up and expressed their views in one of the capitals of the Canadian entertainment industry? Hardly.

What is really and truly “orchestrated” is the payment of over $1 million to Geist by Industry Canada, the very bureaucracy that is holding these copyright hearings. If there’s any deck stacking that’s going on, it is the payment of taxpayer dollars to Michael Geist with no apparent public work product required.

Where is the work product? Do we read it in his blog? Do we read it in his columns? Is Industry Canada propping him up so he can be their mouthpiece?

What’s the story dude? Time to clean your own house, don’t you think?

Confession is good for the soul.