Event Blog

Martha Rans is the Legal Director of the ALO. She has been practicing law in British Columbia since 1997, and works extensively with arts organizations, not-for-profit societies and visual and multimedia digital artists.  She is the Project Lead in Vancouver of Creative Commons Canada.  She teaches copyright at Emily Carr University.

Martha’s blog on the ALO website contains many posts related to issues surrounding the Art, Revolution and Ownership event, so we’ve included some of them here.

Copyright, Cory Doctorow and me

Submitted by martha on August 15, 2011 – 9:14am

Last week I was fortunate to find myself at SIGGRAPH and see Cory Doctorow’s keynote.  It was inspiring. To have him here in Vancouver as we make the final preparations for “Art, Revolution and Ownership” lit the fire under me to get writing again. Here are some excerpts of what he said:

Here in the digital age, we copy like we breathe, and so the stakes for getting the rules right on copyright have never been higher

So today, let’s get beyond “Copyright good/copyright bad” arguments and dig into the meatier questions:

“What do we want copyright to do, and which copyright will do that stuff?”

Let’s start with something everyone in this room should be able to agree with: copyright should serve as an incentive to creativity. A good copyright system results in more people making more creations. One of copyright’s most important goals is serving creators.

Cory (from my pov) demands that we differentiate the industry from creators and understand that what is being done under the guise of copyright does not serve creators. This should be obvious but for whatever reason the media often lump the industry together with artists suggesting that many creators agree with their views on drm when that is simply not the case. Many of  the unions, guilds and association have disagreed with the industry position on some aspects of Bill C-32. They are lost in the copyright/left debate which rages in the blogosphere to little constructive effect.  As I have said before, many creators feel shut out of the conversation because the system does not serve their interests.

Cory offers an eloquent and informed reminder on the need for us to develop better (more innovative?) ways to ensure remuneration for creators. “We need intermediaries who can provide the plumbing through which our works flow, because without them, we have to bear the costs of creation and distribution and most of us can’t do that.”  What I take that to mean is that WE have the obligation to work a little harder at answering the ‘what do we want copyright to do’ question. In previous posts I have suggested making links to arts funding and other kinds of community-driven mechanisms for support of creators. I have asked the librarians, educators and institutions I speak to to get involved with arts advocacy. I also advocate better informed folk about how licenses work (and don’t work) and spend a lot of time helping artists manage this complexity including sharing their content as openly as they want, at the same time as respecting their work,  negotiate better deals and change the sometimes egregious terms of many contracts they are routinely asked to sign. It was inspiring to hear Cory put all that into the context of what we are really doing with C-32 (and DRM and privacy).

In an answer to a question from an audience member Cory also makes an eloquent argument for blanket licenses. It seems to me that too often we get bogged down in criticisms of our collective licensing systems with precious few alternatives on offer. This is not guaranteeing artists a living as some in the open access world have said to me (yes you David Eaves) this is about acknowledging the value of the work that we create and re-making the system in a way that genuinely serves creators. Bill C-32 does not do that. I fear that we in this country have spent the better part of the past 2 years having the wrong conversation. This was my sense after leaving Toronto in August 2009 and it sadly remains so today. I hope those of you who read this will join us in a different conversation on the 8th, 9th and 10th of September in Vancouver at @art_revolution. I hope you can join us at W2 on the 8th (check out the following week for more on the topic of surveillance), and the NFF.

The Future of Art

Submitted by martha on January 13, 2011 – 9:53am

Yesterday I heard Tony Clement, Minister of Industry on the CBC.  He was commenting on the CRTC decision to uphold usage based internet billing.  He claimed that his interest was in ensuring a menu of options for Canadians.  He also called upon Bell to share.  What is curious to me about these comments is that he seems deaf to the calls from artists to ensure some remunerative potential from digital access to their work in the form of some kind of levy.   Artists would also like a menu of options including support for their work, their spaces to create, and a royalty pool/or levy. The government’s position in C-32 appears to be one that adopts the industry view requiring TPM’s and strong anit-circumvention language at the expense of more choice, and enhanced opportunitties to share that many creators want and need.  Those who like this bill are not those who will have to litigate over its meaning, or more pointedly have the most at stake when it is litigated. In the past week I have met a painter whose work was digitized from an opening invite and circulated in commercial contexts without knowledge (let alone a fee), a writer who self-published who found her work was being printed on demand by a US based entity without the rights to do so, and lastly a respected European media artist who is wanting to tour a work that uses fragments of other works.  This is not an academic discourse this is practical reality.  I am teaching copyright again and hope to post some of the students comments in the coming weeks.

Last month January 15th, was World’s Fair Use Day.  Dan Lynch of Negativland spoke about his creative process.  He said that for him the camera is a kind of sampler.   He uses the camera as a collector of images that he then can sample from to make his work.  Over the course of the discussion one question came up:  Is the act of creativity in the code or the art? I finally saw the Social Network.  A story not about code but about the social relationships that falter when we see only code.  This is a very challenging question for many yet it is one way of looking at the impact of the digital realm upon art-making.  For some this has meant considering the Future of Art.  For more thoughts (and less) check out:  Olivier Laric.

Copyright 2011: Looking Forward

Submitted by martha on December 30, 2010 – 6:27pm

The year ends much as it began with a sense that while everything has changed more stays the same.  The debate around Bill C-32 continues – with little obvious progress from the outside looking in.  Moore and Clement held a press conference where again the  “iPod tax” was used to generate media and public attention.  They claim they speak for consumers.  Yet I have not met anyone who begrudges paying creators for their work – nor for that matter do the Consumers Association, PIAC and the Union des Consommateurs.  Artists are also consumers and users of content.  Perhaps the theory is that if the word is repeated often enough we the “public” will reject paying for creative work. Yet we do so in a policy vacuum – how do actually value creativity?  And what do we mean by content?  I have just finished reading a report about user generated content – one of the most striking things was the ease with which all “content” is somehow the same despite the fact that brand recognition and technical software services may not be of any interest to a multitude of creators in both the analogue and digital worlds.

I also started watching the series of panels from Free Culture in Barcelona in November.  Alan Toner pointed out that while Kickstarter may have generated 20 million dollars online crowdfinance that is a small fraction of what it takes to actually make films.  Not all films are DIY projects.  Some are, some aren’t.  We can’t simply apply the model and expect it to work – we need a range of solutions to the finance puzzle and they need to be at some level tailored to the specific medium and specific normative practices within each one.  Alan pointed out the value of retaining copyright for commcercial packages for broadcast.  Clearly a more nuanced view that what I heard recently in Montreal.  I am inspired by the way those who are most fluent in the net have harnessed the technology for so much public good.   The Artefactica project was inspiring.  Some of the rhetoric however missed the mark.

I don’t know very many (any) musicians who make music and write songs to sell t-shirts.  Indeed, they are routinely being expected to essentially assign those rights as well as any others to their labels or concert promoters (known as a 360 agreement).  This, it seems to me anyway, is hardly progressive and a contribution to the public domain.  Nor do I know very many people who make a living giving talks, as Cory Doctorow has pointed out recently. Those who make money developing tools in an increasingly digital world play an important role in ensuring that we don’t forget that without some ability to buy paint, maintain a gallery space, care for a video archive, or plant the seeds of a garden our creative commons will be greatly diminished.  I have also been reading William Patry’s Moral Panics.  The power of language and metaphor to affect our thinking is clearly and coherently laid out with respect to copyright.  We need to develop a way to communicate that does not disempower and undermine artists and each other as using words like pirate and tax clearly do.

I started out this year committed to trying to bridge the communications gap.  This blog and the work of the past year has I hope contributed to a better understanding of what we stand to gain by talking to each other.