Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Canadian foreign affairs reporting: a critique

Canadian news outlets focus too much on American news.

This is the conclusion of an article just published in the Canadian Journal of Communications by Abby Goodrum and Elizabeth Godo Elections, titled "Wars and Protests? A Longitudinal Look at Foreign News on Canadian Television."

"American content has steadily increased," say the authors. "American news is far more common [in Canadian foreign news] than that of any other nation, and past research has shown that representation of a country in news media is a predictor of favourable public opinion regarding that country. The nature of the coverage has been demonstrated to be irrelevant; it matters simply that the audience is exposed to the country in question (Perry, 1990; Semetko et al., 1992)." (472)

According to the authors, foreign news in Canada tends to "focus on human interest and domestic politics among culturally similar nations, and international conflicts, wars, and violence elsewhere," according to the authors. The “Third world”, according to the article, is portrayed "as rife with conflict and directly opposed to the stable, civilized west", a problem even more worrying given "the diversity of Canadian society and the struggle of Canadian immigrants to see themselves reflected in the national news of their new home country." (472)

This fact, the authors say, "paints a bleak picture for Canadian citizens, whether first-generation or otherwise, whose knowledge of the world and connection to their country of origin is based on what they see in the news" (473).

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Possible Major Shakeup in International IP System after US withdrawal of funding from UNESCO

The United States cut funding to UNESCO yesterday in response to the approval of the Palestinian bid for membership in UNESCO. The CBC reports this morning that Canada is now considering whether it should follow suit. Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird is considering "how much" support it gives, perhaps in place of complete withdrawal. The US also plans to retain membership in UNESCO despite the funding cut, according to the CBC.

Palestinian membership in UNESCO opens the door to Palestine joining WIPO, and a similar withdrawal of United States funding from WIPO. There is no indication at this point as to whether Canada might follow suit.

The United States' exit from UNESCO in 1984 led to a major reorganization of international intellectual property relations. It ultimately resulted in the United States' joining of the WIPO Berne Convention, the decline of UNESCO's Universal Copyright Convention into irrelevance (also due to the establishment of the TRIPs Agreement) , and the rise of WIPO and the Berne Convention as the unrivaled cornerstone of international intellectual property and international copyright respectively. That led to a new era in intellectual property normsetting.

Non-payment of membership fees can lead to the loss of voting power in WIPO bodies. Were the United States to stop its payments, and were other countries like Canada to follow suit, the policymaking initiatives of the United States, having lost power in WIPO, would likely be taken to other forums. This raises the prospect of a major shakeup within UN bodies, and major changes to the shape of international intellectual property institutions and relations.

Update: The AP confirms that Canada will reduce funding to UNESCO.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Open E-books to Read

One of the problems with DRM on e-books is that locking e-books to a particular platform also locks the book to particular reading software. I like e-books for a lot of reasons: their portability and the convenience of being able to purchase them instantly being among those reasons. However, one of the biggest potentials of e-books, and one that is curtailed by DRM, is the potential of using technology platforms to facilitate serious reading and learning.

Software can facilitate reading and notetaking, or it can make reading and notetaking difficult. The platforms I've used to read ebooks are fine for reading novels, but terrible for browsing through a book, and terrible for note-taking. That's why e-books are not suitable as textbooks or for any kind of serious reading that requires note-taking. The note-taking features provided in a lot of the software is not only awful; it ties the notes to the software. Upgrading to a different technology or software can entail losing not only one's books but also one's notes. Export features are also dismal, in my experience.

E-books should be open, and note-taking formats should be saved in and exportable to standard formats. This would allow true competition among reading platforms, so that when one does upgrade to new technology one can be assured of being able to bring one's books, and one's notes, along to the new platform.

There is nothing so fundamental as reading and learning. Business models should not be built on systems that short-circuit technologcial potentials that could otherwise facilitate reading and learning. Locking up ebooks is wrong and backwards, and especially bad for serious reading and learning.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

That's not modernization

Debates began yesterday in Canadian Parliament on copyright reform. Conservative Industry Minister Christian Paradis introduced the bill and its various features, noting that various common private non-commercial uses of works would be reasonably allowed, that provisions would be created allowing for certain uses of works such as by the visually impaired, and that damages for copyright infringment would be reduced to something much more reasonable than what we have seen in some other countries. All of this is excellent and signals that the Canadian govenrment is aware of and responsive to the many hurdles that Canadians face as users and creators of copyright works.

However, Minister Paradis also pointed a feature of the bill that is highly criticized. He noted that many of the copyright exceptions of the bill - those very features that make it so reasonable - "do not apply to works protected by a technological protection measure or digital lock." This, he says, is because "Copyright holders told us that their digital and on-line business models depend on the robust protection provided by digital locks."

Copyright holders should not be given free reign and a different copyright - a much broader copyright - in the digital environment. Public interest provisions should not suddenly disappear in a digital environment. The digitial environment is one where public interest exceptions matter the most. Do we want a digital learning environment where books are locked away from legitimate readers, paid-for music can be locked from its paid-up owner, and where publicly-owned content can be locked away from its very public? Of course not!

Although the act is officially titled the "Copyright Modernization Act", the modernization of Canadian copyright is held back by a different kind of piracy: one that creates provisions that would allow individuals and corporations to lock up and hold hostage content and uses that should righly be free. That's not modernization.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The state of IP multilateralism

Michael Geist reports that Canada will sign has signed the new Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), possibly this weekend. However, the word is that ACTA may be short on signatures and may never come into force.

The possibility that ACTA would not come into force is one of several possibilities that I mentioned in my paper "WIPO and the ACTA Threat", forthcoming with the International Journal of Technology Policy and Law and published in a previous working-paper version in the PIJIP Working Paper Series.

If the agreement does fail to come into force, it would be more good news for the World Intellectual Property Organization. ACTA was a treaty negotiated outside of a true multilateral framework - an agreement made behind closed doors on an invitation-only basis. WIPO's Director General has called ACTA "a bad development" for WIPO and broader multilateral processes, a response to multilateral institutions' weakness and recnet inability to conclude broad-based treaties. IP-Watch reports progress in the recent negotation of a new audiovisual treaty, calling this 'a boost' to the multilateral intellectual property system. Another agreement for visually impaired also seems to be progressing well.

A boost for WIPO is relatively good news for weaker parties who had no voice in the development of ACTA but who do have some voice at WIPO.

Update: IP-Watch has an interesting article on where WIPO stands on its enforcement activities.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Royalty Map

This map, from Worldmapper.org, shows where the world's royalty money goes.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Nair on Fair Use

Meera Nair writes about some Canadian universities' decisions to drop Access Copyright's blanket copyright agreements; said universitites will now negotiate copyright agreements independently, making use of fair dealing where it applies, and paying for uses beyond that directly to publishers. She outlines the fascinating history of fair use in the United States, its evolution, and the recent developments on fair dealing in Canada.

Nair points out that we are now, in Canada, standing at a crossroads. Universities are deciding how they will interpret fair dealing in Canada, and she fears that univerities will interpret it too narrowly. Universities, Nair points out, have a tremendous influence on students. She fears that, in taking a conservative interpretation of fair dealing, universities will influence students, shaping their ideas of fair dealing and causing them to forget the full scope of their rights as copyright users. This could diminish the shape and scope of Canadian fair dealing for generations to come.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Canadian Copyright: History, Change, and Potential

My article, "Canadian Copyright: History, Change, and Potential", has been published by the Canadian Journal of Communication.

The first part of this article reviews Canada’s international copyright history and the role Canada has played in international copyright from the nineteenth century to the present day. In part two, the author asks whether we can be optimistic or pessimistic about Canada’s role, and the role of international institutions more generally, in promoting solutions to the social policy and social justice concerns raised by the expansion of intellectual property. The author argues that Canada’s history, while demonstrating Canada’s potential to support progressive change, has not borne out certain middle power ideals.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

E-book stores and Canada

The Globe and Mail posted an interesting story on Canada's position in the e-book market.

The question is reminicent of a historical controversy surrounding Canadians' ability to import cheap American editions of British books (cheap due to weak American copyright protection for foreign works), rather than buying the legitimate leather-bound (and more expensive) English editions. The debate rises again, with fears that Canadian consumers will circumvent online e-book retailers licenced to sell books in Canada, purchasing instead from cheaper foreign retailers and undercutting profits that underwrite Canadian authors.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

$10 All-You-Can-Download fee proposal

The Montreal Gazette reports that Songwriters Association of Canada is proposing a $10 monthly internet fee that would give Canadian consumers a licence download unlimited numbers of songs. They propose trials by the end of the year.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

E-book users' Bill of Rights

From the Librarian in Black and Andy Woodworth; with an interesting discussion of the eBook User's Bill of Rights on BoingBoing:

The eBook User’s Bill of Rights is a statement of the basic freedoms that should be granted to all eBook users.

The eBook User’s Bill of Rights

Every eBook user should have the following rights:

  • the right to use eBooks under guidelines that favor access over proprietary limitations
  • the right to access eBooks on any technological platform, including the hardware and software the user chooses
  • the right to annotate, quote passages, print, and share eBook content within the spirit of fair use and copyright
  • the right of the first-sale doctrine extended to digital content, allowing the eBook owner the right to retain, archive, share, and re-sell purchased eBooks

I believe in the free market of information and ideas.

I believe that authors, writers, and publishers can flourish when their works are readily available on the widest range of media. I believe that authors, writers, and publishers can thrive when readers are given the maximum amount of freedom to access, annotate, and share with other readers, helping this content find new audiences and markets. I believe that eBook purchasers should enjoy the rights of the first-sale doctrine because eBooks are part of the greater cultural cornerstone of literacy, education, and information access.

Digital Rights Management (DRM), like a tariff, acts as a mechanism to inhibit this free exchange of ideas, literature, and information. Likewise, the current licensing arrangements mean that readers never possess ultimate control over their own personal reading material. These are not acceptable conditions for eBooks.

I am a reader. As a customer, I am entitled to be treated with respect and not as a potential criminal. As a consumer, I am entitled to make my own decisions about the eBooks that I buy or borrow.

I am concerned about the future of access to literature and information in eBooks. I ask readers, authors, publishers, retailers, librarians, software developers, and device manufacturers to support these eBook users’ rights.

These rights are yours. Now it is your turn to take a stand. To help spread the word, copy this entire post, add your own comments, remix it, and distribute it to others. Blog it, Tweet it (#ebookrights), Facebook it, email it, and post it on a telephone pole.

To the extent possible under law, the person who associated CC0 with this work has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to this work

E-book library controversy

For some time now, it has been possible to check out e-books from many local public libraries. While the service has a few important flaws, it's also a wonderful service that expands the range of books available to e-book readers. Importantly, public library e-book lending is a way of expanding the role and philosophies of local public libraries. Library service is especially important given the extremely high prices of some e-books.

Harper Collins, one of the publishers that licenses e-books to libraries for check-out, has recently proposed to change its library licence. Under the new provisions, a book could only be checked out 26 times before the library would have to obtain a new licence. Cory Doctrow reports. HC argues that libraries, in the case of hardcopy books, have to repurchase books from time to time, and that the repurchase would, in any case, come at a discount. It appears that libraries have been purchasing the lending rights for the e-books at or below the regular price of the ebook. The 26-lending limit would increase the price of books to libraries, in many cases by 5, 10, 20, 30 or more times, depending on the lasting popularity of the book. The new strategy is a transparent attempt to ensure that the publisher can milk libraries and each book for all they're worth for as long as a book is being checked out.

Academic libraries, in my experience, have not yet adopted e-book lending or the international epub standard. Some offer a form of e-books for viewing on the screen in very clumsy browser applications that are totally inadequate for scholarly reading, with incapacitating limitations on printing, note-taking, copy-pasting; and often with limitations on simultaneous users that preclude their use for course readings. All the same, were the HC principle to be accepted and established, it would be a very big problem for academic libraries as well. Not only are academic books already overpriced in the extreme, making a 10x; 20x; 30x or more increase all the more shocking; this type of licensing system could inhibit the adoption of ebook lending in academic libraries before it even gets started.

In response, some libraries are boycotting Harper Colllins.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Wallflowers at the Revolution

The NYT's Frank Rich:
A month ago most Americans could not have picked Hosni Mubarak out of a police lineup. [...] And so now — as the world’s most unstable neighborhood explodes before our eyes — does anyone seriously believe that most Americans are up to speed? [...]

The live feed from Egypt is riveting. We can’t get enough of revolution video — even if, some nights, Middle West blizzards take precedence over Middle East battles on the networks’ evening news. But more often than not we have little or no context for what we’re watching. That’s the legacy of years of self-censored, superficial, provincial and at times Islamophobic coverage of the Arab world in a large swath of American news media. [...]

Perhaps the most revealing window into America’s media-fed isolation from this crisis — small an example as it may seem — is the default assumption that the Egyptian uprising, like every other paroxysm in the region since the Green Revolution in Iran 18 months ago, must be powered by the twin American-born phenomena of Twitter and Facebook. [...]
It may be the case that Facebook had a role to play and even, as Jennifer Preston argues, became an outlet and organizing platform for protesters and Egypt. However, there are many, many other factors, alongside Facebook, that those of us who are so distant from the events and context just don't have a grasp on. Rich is right: the mainstream media are responsible, to some extent, for Western ignorance. New media might play a role in correcting that ignorance to some degree. In a world where misguided Western intervention has done so much harm, that, it seems to me, is the more important story.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Stiglitz in Egypt

Ahmed Abdel Latif comments on Joseph Stiglitz's recent address at the American University in Cairo. Although Stiglitz didn't mention current events in Egypt directly, he emphasized the importance of an innovative society, praised the Brazilian government's move to adopt open source software for its governmental and public institutions, and emphasized balance in the commercialization of university research, emphasizing the importance of publicly funded initiatives in innovative socieities. As well, he encouraged developing countries to take advantage of the flexibilities in intellectual property agreements.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Revolution and Social Media

The Egyptian government today took the unprecedented move to shut down Internet and mobile communications in the face of a massive protest against the Mubarak regime. This follows the protests in Tunisia that, earlier in January, caused Ben Ali to leave office. Alongside these political developments a public debate has been taking place on the role of social media like facebook and twitter in protest movements.

Clay Shirky, in the most recent issue of Foreign Affairs, argued that social media makes it possible for publics to coordinate massive and rapid protests, contributing to the political power of publics and democracy. Writing before the events in Tunisia, he cited the 2001 impeachment trial of Philippine President Joseph Estrada, in which coordinated protest prevented the setting-aside of important evidence against the president. He argued that the United States, rather than focusing on freedom of information on the Internet and the censorship of major American online news outlets, should focus its foreign Internet policy on access to social media, encouraging its general use.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his recent piece in the New Yorker, took the opposite view. "The revolution will not be tweeted," he proclaimed, saying that social media fosters only weak ties and commitments - not the kind of political commitment that brings protesters to face down difficult and even dangerous situations and to take the heroic stands necessary for true change to take place.

Others are more ambivalent about the power of social media. During the recent protests in Tunisia, Ethan Zukerman posted a piece that asked why the Tunisian protests had received so little mainstream media attention. Zukerman proclaimed himself agnostic about the role of social media, and expressed frustration with the failure of traditional media to take up the issue. [another agnostic]

The Atlantic has posted a more recent analysis of the role of social media in Tunisia. It features Jillian York of the Berkman Center for the Internet and Society, who believes that facebook creates relatively strong ties, and that such ties were important in leading Ben Ali to leave office on January 14. Not only does Facebook allow the circumvention of censorship in other media; Facebook, the Atlantic proposes, created strong ties by allowing individuals to show, share, and amplify the injury, pain, and protest that was taking place - especially through video. The Atlantic reports one individual as saying that facebook went from being "a waste of time or procrastination tool "to a primary source of news about the events.

Today's shutdown of Egyptian communications demonstrates, if not the power of social media, then its perceived power. However, the true test may come in the days ahead, as what is tested is not the power of social media, but the power of people without it.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Further to C-32 & the A2K Problem

Further to my op-ed, which appeared in today's Hill Times (full text), it is worthy to note that Canada has spoken out at the World Intellectual Property Organization calling for movement at the international level to encourage the export of special format editions for the visually impaired. Currently, Canada's copyright bill, C-32, would allow the export of special-format editions of works by Canadian authors or authors of the country of destination, but not works by authors of a third country. My op-ed suggested that Canada could do more. It's worthy to note, however that Canada has in fact called for an international solution that would also cover those third-country works (see here, p. 41). While not as bold as leading the way by example, Canada's call is definitely a good move.

C-32 & the A2K Problem

My op-ed, "The A2K problem: copyright, accessibility and the future of copyright in Canada," appears in today's Hill Times. In it, I argue that Canada's Bill C-32 is an early move among international efforts to address the copyright needs of the visually impaired, easing the difficulties of creating and making available accessible-format works. It could set an example for other countries and international negotiations to follow. However, I argue that Canada could do more to address those needs than what is contained in C-32. Canada’s efforts should rise to the standard of a new age of access to knowledge, instead of becoming part of the A2K problem.

Carleton University has posted the full op-ed here.