As a Canadian writer I’ve been very concerned lately about a proposed new bill in our Parliament that would change the Canadian Copyright Act. Copyright must be a big concern for all writers—it’s the only thing that ensures we get paid for our work.
The Copyright Act is in serious need of an update to catch up with the times—no-one disputes that, but some of the proposed changes in Bill C-32 will harm writers and could cripple much of our native publishing industry. Seven of Canada’s largest writers organizations cooperated to send a brief to the federal Industry and Heritage Ministers, and that brief outlines the most grievous concerns of Canadian writers very well. Even if you’re a writer in another country, if your work is published in Canada you should be concerned. You should also make sure your own government doesn’t make these same mistakes.
A new proposal to include “educational purposes” under the “fair use” of copyrighted material could save money for educational systems, but only by taking the money out of the hands of the writers who created these works, already among the most underpaid professionals in the country (with an average annual income under $20,000 from their writing). Perhaps even worse, it will become much less profitable for publishers to produce books for the education market if schools can just copy the parts of a book they want. Where will schools get Canadian text books, novels, and poetry to study if it’s no longer worthwhile for the publishers to produce them?
Another proposal would allow anyone to use part or all of an existing work within a new work, as long as it’s not for commercial purposes (so-called “mash-ups”). Since the new work could be freely distributed over the internet, this could completely destroy the market for future sales of the original work, or any sequels created or authorized by the original author. Would you allow a home inventor to use a company’s patented technology in a gadget of his own, and then give the gadgets away to thousands of people? Certainly not.
Bill C-32 also expands the existing exception for “interlibrary loan” to allow digital delivery directly to the computer of a reader. This would essentially allow people to get free e-books from libraries, which they could share with hundreds of thousands of others, the way music files are currently copied (illegally) with peer-to-peer programs. With the traditional publishing industry facing tough times, authors and publishers look to the sale of e-books for their future earnings.
Similarly, Bill C-32 would make it legal for an individual to make any number of copies of a digital book for unspecified “private purposes” without any payment to the author. Again, this plays into the hands of those who would share files over the internet for free, and there would be little that an author could do to protect a work that might have taken them years to produce.
Bill C-32 has some clauses that are obviously intended to address some of the above examples, but they’re not strong enough because they’re too open to interpretation.
The Industry Committee of Parliament has been tasked with studying Bill C-32 further. The clerk of that committee has received a copy of the above-mentioned brief from me (and probably many others!) But you owe it to yourself to write to your Member Of Parliament and make your concerns known. Whether you’re a Canadian or not, you could write to the committee on Bill C-32 at CC32@parl.gc.ca .
Whenever Bill C-32 is passed we’ll be living with its consequences for a very long time.