Jan 042008

The story of the Harper Government’s intended copyright laws (mid-December) is wonderful, both as a threat and as a success.  I laughed as I read..

Let’s celebrate the wild!

If you missed the story, the details are in (7) below – CBC, THE GLOBE & MAIL, & BBC NEWS ON CANADA’S PROPOSED COPYRIGHT LAW.  It is an amazing event with wider implications. 




(3) WHAT IS the F Word?







I was alerted to the proposed copyright laws by CBC Radio show “Search Engine” which covered the action in Calgary at Jim Prentice’s constituency office.  Prentice is Federal Minister of Industry, responsible for the proposed legislation. 

Much of the commentary on the changes to the copyright laws is about the impact on access to music.  My concern is somewhat different (but not unique) and detailed below.  

I laugh now at the sense of urgency (panic!) when I first heard about the proposed legislation.  It is incredible how fast the word spread.  There was such an uproar that Jim Prentice backed off tabling the legislation, although he said it will be tabled in January.  No need for panic.  

It is possible that we may yet need to wade in on this issue. If you are worried that there hasn’t already been enough of a storm of protest to stop this legislation before it gets out of the starting gates, contact Prentice now. 

Jim Prentice Constituency Office, Suite 105, 1318 Centre St NE, Calgary, Alberta T2E 2R7;  403 216-7777;   Fax 403 230-4368; Prentice.J  AT  parl.gc.ca 

In the past, I felt that we had to participate in every single crucial issue.  Today there are SO MANY people who are standing up for the public interest with such great creativity and success that life can be sane and fun.  We aren’t all so urgently needed.  The Tide is indeed Turning, with a vengeance. 

As for my own concerns with the legislation:   .. how to explain it without using words that cause people to say in ridicule, “Are you nuts?  This is Canada.” 

And so I have to ease into the “F” word.  Here goes:  



 I am anxious to forward to you a great article from Harper’s Magazine about the regulation of chemicals in Europe versus North America.  And another article from the New York Times about (I forget).  

Simultaneously, on CBC Radio I heard about proposed changes to the Canadian copyright laws.  Ouch! Does that mean I wouldn’t be able to send the Harpers and NY Times articles to you without going through red tape? (I don’t know the answer because I don’t know the details of the legislation.)  … but then, realistically the Government cannot stop people from using the internet to spread information. 

The proposed laws are restrictive.  That I know.  Should restrictive laws that can’t be enforced be ignored?  …. . NO, the EXISTENCE of such legislation enables the Government, any Government, to shut me – you, anyone –  down, if it chooses to single me or you out.  Hiring a lawyer to defend oneself will more than likely cripple a person financially and emotionally. 

I speak from experience:

Old-timers in our network may remember that the Government of Canada contracted out part of the Canadian Census work to weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin.  The existence of laws that force Canadians to fill in a census form meant that a failure to cooperate with an agenda that further enriches a war corporation with tax-payer money, provides the Government with the threat of a jail sentence over the dissenting individual.  (Update: I told you that Statistics Canada had turned my case over to the Justice Department for intended prosecution.  And that a letter and package had been delivered to my door one evening –  some time ago.  There has been nothing further to report.) 

Back to the copyright laws: 

The police could investigate and obtain copies of my emails and know that I was contravening the copyright laws by downloading and disseminating copyrighted information (whether music or other) from the world wide web.    Charges could be laid. 

Whether or not the Government could fully enforce the laws doesn’t matter – – they would have the tool to intimidate me and others.  Also, the law becomes a tool to limit access to information.  The rationale would be the protection of corporate investment in the information. 

Is that argument legitimate?  No.  It is easily understood if you look at a parallel example:  the patenting or ownership of seeds by a corporation.

How can the corporation claim ownership, even if the Government cooperates by granting a patent?  The seed contains elements that are the product of a long line of development by nature and by many people over years.  The corporation attempts to appropriate that which belongs to “the commons”, to all of us and to nature.

Compare “copyright”.  The words, language and thoughts contained in information are an amalgam created by many, many people over time.  Indeed, activists often play a role in the creation of the content of some information.  We create the fodder used to create the awareness, the commentaries, displays, the panel discussions, the footage, the workshops, the song, media coverage, classroom material, etc.  Not all, but some. 

Can I claim ownership of what I write, to the point where you can be sued for copying it?  How can that be?  I know I am completely dependent upon the world around me, and on people who have gone before, on teachers, even on the gods or the muse, to inform what I create.  I am not smart enough to think up the ideas by myself.  

A writer can sell books, a publisher can sell magazines.  They earn an income.  But surely the words and thoughts are an amalgam, like the seed, that belongs in the public sphere because they are the product of not-organized collaboration.  

The Government will enact laws to prohibit or limit our ability to share the information?  … I see it as an attempt to appropriate part of “the commons”, our knowledge base, to preserve corporate financial interests.

And to limit access to information, which the internet provides in spades. 

To whom do the airwaves belong?  They, too, belong in the public sphere.

And yet we don’t question their appropriation by corporations.  We only “regulate”.  

Is there some fault in my logic?

  • the Government makes it illegal to copy information
  • it cannot possibly enforce the law
  • but the police now have a law and can be summoned to investigate citizens under that law

I am reminded of the RCMP being sent to investigate organic farmer Marc Loiselle who is active in the fight to prevent the transnational corporations from contaminating all grain stocks and our food supply with GMO’s.  Some may recall the incident from our time fighting against the introduction of roundup resistant wheat (successfully).  Marc was only one of several farmers in Manitoba and Saskatchewan who had the police knocking on their doors. 

  • our tax dollars being used to send the police to investigate local farmers.  Surely this is no more than a scare tactic at the behest of Monsanto, in this case.  It was an outrage.  Think of the anxiety of Marc’s children and wife when the police came to their place.
  • the RCMP being used by Monsanto to intimidate citizens, because there is a law under which they can patent seeds. 

(I have a bit of experience with copyright through the writing and publishing of a book on bulghur wheat, and also through having a trade-mark registered in Canada and the U.S.  I let the trade-mark lapse after the fight against the registration and patenting of herbicide-tolerant wheat and terminator seeds.  I told the patent lawyer that the system is suspect.  And Parliament won’t change the legislation that permits corporations to patent life forms, in spite of two decisions from the Supreme Court of Canada that repeatedly drew attention to the need. Patents and copyright (“intellectual property rights”) are closely connected to each other.) 

SO:  The power struggle over the copyright law (item #7).  Round one, hopefully a knock-out!    Way to go!  Michael Geist (Ottawa) for initiating the facebook page.

Kempton Lam in Calgary who organized a crowd to attend the Industry Minister, Jim Prentice’s, local open house to express their views on copyright.  Jesse Brown on CBC Radio for bringing the issue to attention.

Pretty amazing – Canadians coast to coast – in a matter of a few days.    Victory.  


(3)  WHAT IS the F Word? 

I was confused some time ago by reading that there is a name for government based on corporate values.  It is called (the F word) fascism. 

I did not understand how that definition reconciles with the more common definition of fascism which is: 

” a political regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government …”.

From understanding my vulnerability under copyright laws, I can now reconcile the two seemingly different definitions of fascism. 



Fascism as

(a)  a system of government that embraces corporate values, AND / OR ?

(b)  a system of government that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition 

The relationship is this: 

You embrace (a); you end up with (b).  Necessarily and simply – because corporate values are at odds with protection of the public interest.  

To protect and promote the corporate interest (if that is its agenda), the Government will at some point have to resort to the tactics of a police state.  We saw that when the RCMP was dispatched to the home of Marc Loiselle, when the Government of Canada threatened me and other people with jail over the unnecessary contracting out to a corporation that makes billions of dollars every year from the sale of military weapons.  

The Government passes a law that favours corporate interests.  In a hinterland economy like that of Saskatchewan, a corporate-friendly government gives away the resources for minimal royalties and little effective regulation to protect water, land and health. The corporation then pays dividends on large profits to shareholders, not to the citizens of the Province. 

The pro-corporate laws from pro-corporate government become more necessary at times when the population, the slumbering giant, wakes up smelling something fishy.  The struggle for power is on!  In the case of the copyright law, the power of the corporation – derived from its huge financial wealth – money –  –  are threatened by the internet.  The response of the collaborating government is to introduce copyright law to remove the threat.  The influential must remain influential.  

The f-word is fascism.  One can never imagine how it is that intelligent people like the Italians and Germans allowed the establishment of fascist Governments in their countries during the 1920’s and 30’s.  

Well …

  • we have accepted corporate contributions to political parties.  He who pays the piper the most money, calls the tune. 
  • we have accepted the idea of “public-private-partnerships”.  It’s very much in the choice of words.  A public-private-partnership is more accurately Big Government working hand-in-hand with Big Corporations. 

Will we end up with fascist government? 


  • Government that is run by corporate interests 
  • eventually leads to fascist government.

As long as we have email and unobstructed access to information, our collective ingenuity and power is unleashed.  

The proposed coyyright laws of the federal government need to be watched.

I’ll be phoning Michael Geist, author of the Facebook web site that initiated the information flow around the proposed law. And host of CBC Radio programme Search Engine, Jesse Brown.  Congratulations to them!

They’ve taught us strategy that will work well with the proposed legislation around CORPORATE DONATIONS TO POLITICAL PARTIES.  The fun is on!



(apologies – I picked this up from a web site and lost the address.) 

“It has become customary among libertarians, as indeed among the Establishment of the West, to regard Fascism and Communism as fundamentally identical. But while both systems were indubitably collectivist, they differed greatly in their socio-economic content. For Communism was a genuine revolutionary movement that ruthlessly displaced and overthrew the old ruling elites; while Fascism, on the contrary, cemented into power the old ruling classes. Hence, Fascism was a counter-revolutionary movement that froze a set of monopoly privileges upon society …” 

“Fascism has a grave moral defect, Ropke argued: it fails to recognize the individual as the key social unit. Right economic reasoning, he said, begins not with the nation but with human action, and right social policy begins with the recognition that society is made up of individuals with souls.

Fascism, on the other hand, by ignoring the individual soul, is socialism’s close cousin because it exults in the idolatry of the state.

“definition of the economy of fascism: an economy in which big business reaps the profits while the taxpayer underwrites the losses”  



One blogger wrote: 

I agree that the influence of big money/lobbyists are deeply troubling. I am glad that Canadians are doing something to voice our concerns. 



I don’t think that taking the slippery path toward the F Word is intentional. Jim Prentice isn’t setting out to create fascism or a police state.  Brad Wall, the new Premier of Saskatchewan thinks that he’s doing great things for Saskatchewan – it’s “development, development, development”

– Enterprise Saskatchewan – – which means money, money, money.  The corporation happens to have the honey pot.  The Government has a BIG one too – – ours! 

The problem is in understanding the raison d’être for government.  We elect and pay the Government to protect and promote our interests.  Not those of the corporation. 

It’s not that simple.  They will say, of course, that OUR interest IS money, money, money!

You cannot sleep with those you are responsible for regulating.  You definitely cannot accept money from them.  In the Information Age, you will be prevented from pimping for them. 



(a)  CBC   Go to:  (Link is no longer valid) 





New copyright law starts Web storm

Mathew Ingram, December 9, 2007 at 7:10 PM EST 

The new copyright legislation, which was expected to arrive in Parliament this week, has been delayed — although it’s not clear whether the delay is a result of the criticisms and public outcry described below. 

The federal government is expected to release the latest version of a new copyright law this week, but it has already whipped up a storm of negative publicity on the Internet – a blogosphere and Facebook tsunami with Industry Minister Jim Prentice at the centre. 

One of the architects of this storm is Dr. Michael Geist, a professor of law at the University of Ottawa and an expert in copyright and the Internet, who says he is afraid that the new law will copy the worst aspects of the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act. 

Among other things, Geist says, the legislation will likely “mirror the DMCA with strong anti-circumvention legislation – far beyond what is needed to comply with the WIPO Internet treaties,” and will likely contain no protection for “flexible fair dealing. No parody exception. No time shifting exception. No device shifting exception. No expanded backup provision. Nothing.” 

Dr. Geist has posted a YouTube video that lists 30 ways in which people can protest the legislation, and has set up a Facebook group as a central rallying point for those opposed to the new legislation. 

The law professor’s fight has also been adopted by half a dozen influential blogs, including Boing Boing, whose co-founder Cory Doctorow is a Canadian author and former Electronic Frontier Foundation staffer. 

In a recent post, Doctorow wrote that “The US’s approach to enforcing copyright in the digital age has resulted in 20,000 lawsuits against music fans, technology companies being sued out of existence for making new multi-purpose tools, and has not put one penny into the pocket of an artist or reduced downloading one bit. The USA stepped into uncharted territory in 1998 with the DMCA and fell off a cliff — that was reckless, but following them off the cliff is insane.” 

Canadian copyright lawyer Howard Knopf has also been blogging about the legislation, and CBC’s Search Engine show tried to get Jim Prentice to come on and do an interview, and solicited questions from readers (host Jesse Brown got more than 240 responses) but the minister said he couldn’t go on the program. 

The Facebook group Geist set up has more than 10,000 members after less than a week, and helped to generate a small but opinionated crowd of vocal critics who gathered at an open house event held by the Industry Minister in his home riding in Calgary on Saturday.  

Other sites that have been following the issue include Fair Copyright and Digital Copyright Canada as well as Online Rights Canada  



http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/7149588.stm   (2011 April – the link is still valid.)

Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 December 2007, 13:21 GMT    Power of Facebook affects law 

Internet law professor Michael Geist looks at how Facebook has the power to affect legislation. 

The power of Facebook, not just a social networking tool  

If 2006 was the year of YouTube, 2007 has been Facebook’s year. The growth of social media, led by Facebook, has taken the world by storm.  

Since January, Facebook has added 250,000 new users each day with nearly 60 million people worldwide now using the site. 

The hyper-growth does not tell the whole story, however.  

Facebook has also acquired considerable attention regarding its user privacy policies, online marketing strategies and the short-sighted decision of some companies and governments to block employee access to the site. 

While these issues have shone the spotlight on some of the challenges of social media, the lasting lesson of Facebook may come from a series of events that unfolded over the past two weeks in Canada. 

They demonstrate that Facebook is far more than just a cool way to catch up with old friends; rather, it is an incredibly effective and efficient tool that can be used to educate and galvanise grassroots advocacy, placing unprecedented power into the hands of individuals.  

 Not only had tools like Facebook had an immediate effect on the government’s legislative agenda, but the community that developed around the group also led to a “crowdsourcing” of knowledge. 

Michael Geist 

On December 1st I launched the Fair Copyright for Canada Facebook group, with limited expectations. This seemed like a good way to educate the public about the Canadian government’s plans to introduce new copyright reform within a matter of days. I sent invitations to a hundred or so Facebook friends and seeded the group with links to a few relevant websites. 

What happened next was truly remarkable. Within hours the group started to grow, first 50 members, then 100, and then 1000. One week later there were 10,000 members. Two weeks later there were over 25,000 members with a new member joining the group every 30 seconds.  

The big numbers tell only part of the story. The group is home to over 500 wall posts, links to 150 articles of interest, over 50 discussion threads, dozens of photos and nine videos. 

Ten days ago, it helped spur on an offline protest when Kempton Lam, a Calgary technologist, organized 50 group members to descend on the Canadian Industry Minister, Jim Prentice’s, local open house to express their views on copyright. 

While Facebook was not the only source of action, the momentum was unquestionably built on thousands of Canadians, who were determined to have their voices heard. 

Jim Prentice has delayed introducing new copyright reforms  

Much to the surprise of sceptics who paint government as unable or unwilling to listen to public concerns, those voices had an immediate impact.  Ten days after the Facebook group’s launch, Jim Prentice delayed introducing the new copyright reforms, seemingly struck by the rapid formation of concerned citizens who were writing letters and raising awareness. 

Not only had tools like Facebook had an immediate effect on the government’s legislative agenda, but the community that developed around the group also led to a “crowdsourcing” of knowledge. Canadians from coast to coast shared information, posed questions, posted their letters to politicians, and started a national conversation on copyright law in Canada. 

This scenario cannot be repeated for every issue. In this instance, Canadians increasingly recognized the detrimental effect of the proposed copyright reforms on consumer rights, privacy, and free speech, and were moved to act. 

Yet for similarly placed concerns, the lesson of the past two weeks is that politicians, companies, and other organizations can ill-afford to ignore a medium that is capable of mobilizing tens of thousands within a matter of days. Those caught flatfooted may ultimately find themselves struggling to save face. 

Michael Geist holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law. He can be reached at mgeist  AT  uottawa.ca or online at www.michaelgeist.ca


For more information, google “copyright legislation + Jim Prentice”  (Prentice is Federal Minister of Industry).

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