Oops…he did it again—Geist misses the point on artist rights

As I’ve discussed many times on MTP, Canada has been moving toward a new copyright law quite some time.  Every attempt at what is loosely called “reform” has failed to advance through the Canadian Parliament.  This is for a variety of reasons, some procedural. 

Earlier this year, the Canadian Government introduced another attempt at copyright reform (assigned bill number C-32) that has now gotten to the point that it is being marked up in committee.  This is a major accomplishment which can largely be credited to their Minister of Industry and Minister of Heritage—but also to the obvious commercial reality that Canadian artists, like the rest of the world’s professional artists, are being savaged by piracy.

Governments around the world are being forced to deal with a legal situation that is out of control while at the same time the bORG and its fellows are chanting “resistance is futile”, a favorite theme of academic demagogues playing to the mob as well as the pirates, advertisers and search engines profiting from massive infringement.

The key issue at the heart of this massive problem of theft is that everyone in the continuing criminal enterprise of online theft ignores the one piece of information that could solve much of the problem if it were respected and enforceable. 

We call that a price.  The price set by the artists for their work.

A price is a wonderful thing.  It protects consumers by informing them of the value of a good, and it protects the producer of the good by informing the producer of what they can expect to receive if the good is sold. 

A price also protects consumers because it allows them to send information back to the producer either by not buying the good (a flop) or buying it in some quantity based on how they feel about the good.  This is surely not news to anyone (except perhaps Oberhozer-Gee and Strumpf who seem to think that artists work for publicity and free beer).

Of course—the price is only meaningful information if it is expressed in a law enforcement regime that respects it.  

Why is this relevant to the Canadian Bill C-32?  Because Canadians can do whatever they like about Canadian works of authorship in Canada.  The problem is that Bill C-32 inevitably covers works of authorship by non-Canadians and what the Canadian Parliament does about works by other authors has to fall within established international laws and norms.  So that’s why it is important to Americans—because those who beat the drum of jingoism in Canada about copyright reform are setting up a classic post hoc gotcha—they talk a “made in Canada solution” which is fine.  But they are not willing to engage in filtering and blocking and engaging in other law enforcement mechanisms to make it a “limited to Canada solution.”

Michael Geist, for example, had this to say: “[A] compromise may lie in identifying alternative mechanisms for providing financial supportive to Canadian creators.  A recent study of Montreal musician attitudes toward copyright by McGill law professor Tina Piper found that artists were far more focused on grant programs that play a key role in developing and distributing new music, facilitating performance tours, and expanding the international reach of Canadian music.” 

These guys always manage to pull out some “study” that just happens to support the conclusion they want to draw anyway.  Geist is once again ambiguous—far more focused than what?  Than being able to set their own price for their own works?  Because what is the end to getting tour support from some bunch of government bureaucrats?  To keep getting subsidized by taxpayers to create, or to be able to compete in the international marketplace—marketplace, get it?  You know, where people sell stuff for a price?

This obsession that academics have with government control is quite breathtaking.  Academics, however, like the “free beer” crowd, have always, always gotten this price thing wrong.  As Lessig says in Free Culture, “the law could create a statutory license that would ensure that artists get something from the trade of their work.” 

Lessig always says he wants artists to be compensated—but he’s not too interested in artists getting compensated by setting their own price for their work if it means getting in the way of the Internet.  Or as he said in a Pirate Party video, “this tiny industry” should not be allowed to “break the Internet” so “Hollywood has to get over it.”

When these academics sit in their ivory towers drawing big salaries (subsidized by the Canadian tax payer in Geist’s case), they come up with these hair brained ideas.  Ask a bunch of musicians today whether they would prefer a subsidy for tour support and marketing or trying to cobble together a comparable amount of money from selling records in an online environment where they are robbed all the live long day, which one do you think they’ll take? 

But it still comes down to this.  If Geist wants to have the government subsidize Canadian artists, then he needs to also come up with the ideas to limit the effect of C-32 to Canadians only.  If he wants to perpetuate the continuing enterprise of massive piracy driven by search and paid in advertising dollars to everyone but the artist, then he needs to explain that, too.