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Another Attack on Copyright

2014 November 24

[Note: this post is modified from a piece I wrote for the November/December 2014 Outdoor Writers of Canada newsletter, Inside Outdoors.]

Sigh! It seems our federal government just doesn’t want to understand why creators need copyright to protect their right to earn a living—strange, coming from a conservative government you would think would want to protect a person’s right to run a business and be a contributing member of society. However, as first reported by CTV News on October 8, 2014, the government is planning to further “change Canada’s copyright law to allow political parties to use content published and broadcast by news organizations for free in their own political ads.” In other words, a political party could take something you wrote or broadcast and use it in a political advertisement without your permission or compensation.

Now, this might not look like it will affect you directly as an outdoor communicator; but it could. If you normally write typical “me and Joe went fishing/hunting/hiking” articles, you will most likely not be affected. However, if you write about a government or opposition party policy or how an issue is being handled or how laws are enforced, some politico in a campaign office might decide to use some of your words (images) to attack another party or support their own platform. Seemingly, they could attach your name to it, implying you support an issue, even though the clip is taken out of the context of the story you wrote and may not at all represent your opinion.

Manipulating your words and changing the meaning of what they say without your permission is a violation of your moral rights, a fundamental pillar of copyright. Your moral rights protect your reputation and personality as a writer/communicator, and they are the last rights you should ever give up over any work you produce. Sometimes publishers ask that you waive your moral rights, in which case (if you agree) they should pay you well and not credit you with authorship because you are giving them the right to change your wording as they see fit. What the federal government is proposing is not only outright theft of a writer’s work but the ability to cobble it into something it was not.

The problem with all this is that we so far have not been able to see the actual wording of the proposed change. For example, how will “news organizations” be defined. Will it include all magazines, web sites, etc., or just those solely involved with news (however that might be defined)? What is disturbing is the wording will be hidden in yet another undemocratic omnibus bill, where a lot of legislation will be put forth in one all-or-none package. So, the wording about copyright changes will most likely get lost in a debate about a whole bunch of other issues.

All that said, the leak of the internal document does provide an opportunity for writers and other creators to address the issue with their members of parliament. Personally speaking, I cannot see how such legislation as described in the news articles can hold up in court. However, that has never stopped this government, who prefers to bully legislation through and let the courts sort out the details. Nevertheless, in the past when enough people complain the government has made changes before presenting a bill. So I strongly suggest you contact your MP and let him/her know of your concerns about this pending legislation. It can’t hurt and you just might make a difference.

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