Progressive politics, ideas & culture


Anti-copyright: a rebel sell?

This Magazine Staff

Okay, the title of this posting is intentionally provocative, but the intent is pure. In my job I am so enmeshed in the current copyright reform process in Canada (hell, there is a meeting of the Creator’s Rights Alliance going on down the hall from me right now) it is sometimes hard to pull back and get real perspective, but real perspective is the thing most needed right now, as far as I can tell.
I’m confused. Please explain. Why the intense anger and recrimination from the anti-copyright, or copyleft crowd? Their blogs seem filled with bile — check out,, excess copyright, the ever-angry Russell McOrmond in this letter to The Hill Times, or the less angry Michael Geist at
Compare all that high blood pressure argumentation with the calm, rational approach of Canada’s creative community at
Specifically, why the hatred in the copyleft camp of Access Copyright, which is Canada’s copyright licensing agency. AC is NOT, as far as I can tell, (full disclosure: I work closely with them and as a published writer I am an affiliate and receive a yearly cheque as part of their creator repertoire), controlled by some radical corporate agenda to lock down free speech and creativity. In my dealings with this agency, I have NEVER met a person who wants to restrict an academic’s right to cite, quote or use portions of someone else’s work in their own writing. In fact everyone I know at Access Copyright would go to war to protect an academic’s, or anyone else’s, right to do those things (this is stated clearly at I have never met anyone at AC who wants kids to be personally out of pocket for everything, or anything, they use in their classroom. I have never met anyone who wants giant American corporate interests to lock down the public domain; and they certainly would never claim, as Mr. McOrmond suggests on his blog “that if people want to read books multiple times without additional payment that [sic] they are “pirates.” Why such a ridiculous, obviously false claim about the purpose of a copyright licensing agency?
In my experience, Access Copyright is made up of hard-working creative Canadians who work in one of the lowest paid sectors of our economy — culture — and who desperately want to ensure access for everyone (thus the name) to their work and/or product. These people respect fair dealing, and the public domain. They simply do not share the opinion that the Internet contains an implied license for royalty-free copying and use.
More than anything, I want to find common ground in this struggle, and as far as I can see, once the anger is dropped, there should be plenty of common ground. Michael Geist is very fond of talking about a balanced copyright approach that respects the rights of users. Balance, of course, implies two sides; so if we respect the rights of users, as every copyright holder I know does, shouldn’t we also respect the rights of the copyright holders, whether they are individual artists making a crap living or gigantic corporations with enormous budgets?
Honestly, the copyleft arguments are so littered with anti-corporate rhetoric, I can’t help wondering if this isn’t some gigantic Rebel Sell (TM) akin to the most naive excesses of the anti-globalization movement (anybody seen the parkour cell-phone commercial now playing on Canadian television?).
There is a pretty solid rumour about that CC is looking into creating a Rights Management System whereby members can collect royalties for work they have licensed under CC. The Commons, for sale? How is this essentially different from what AC has been doing for copyright holders for years? My understanding is Access Copyright has informally approached Creative Commons to discuss how these two groups can cooperate to create a balanced copyright paradigm. Yet all the rhetoric from the other side is that AC works at odds with CC’s noble goal of a free public domain.
Someone please explain, minus the angry rhetoric, what is so wrong with the creator of a work, or someone who has licensed limited copyright (like a publisher), wanting to protect their limited control over that work, and/or wanting to make limited money from that work within traditional or even non-traditional market economy ways (licensing use, including certain educational uses). What is so wrong with that?

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