Landing : Athabascau University

Bring in a B-52 for the C-32

Frits Pannekoek has written a clear and well-argued indictment of the (ludicrous) C-32 bill that is currently going through the Canadian parliament. The proposed legislation is evil. It's not just about laws that remove rights we have enjoyed for centuries, though that is bad enough. It's about laws that take away some of our future rights to achieve all we can achieve and to become a better society.

 In 1492 Johannes Trithemius, Abbot of Spondheim, launched an impassioned attack on printing because of the harm it did to scribes (his attack was, of course, printed). Once upon a time publishers, like the scribes, provided a public good that greatly benefited society, but it was a good that was contingent on the technology that was available. DRM is an absurd skeuomorph that seeks to create artificial scarcity out of inherently nonrival resources, to the detriment of society. It is technologically naive as the genie is trivial to unleash (and cannot be contained by one nation's misguided laws) and so it only hurts those who would be honest and law-abiding in the first place. 

I don't think it's just about defending traditional rights, though those are indeed under threat by greedy corporations that see new opportunities to control supply like never before. This is about fundamental gains in opportunities for us to grow as a society and a species being squashed by ignorance and habits of mind based on past (but now fictitious) scarcity.

Bearing that in mind and, given that our core goal must be to increase knowledge in society, perhaps we at higher educational institutions now have a moral and practical obligation to eschew any DRM'd content while opening all of our content to the world. In an age of ubiquitous information, our value is in offering a community of scholars and a process that helps people to learn.  When universities began it was as a means for students to learn from and with great thinkers, not to consume content, so this is not a radical suggestion. Far from it, it is very much about a return to traditional values. 


  • Mark A. McCutcheon November 29, 2010 - 12:35pm

    Bill C32 actually has the potential to provide some substantial gains for everyday and educational fair dealing. I think denouncing it as totally evil overlooks this potential. What threatens the legitimacy of the bill and trumps its fair-dealing gains is, as you note, its protections of TPMs (technological protection measures, or "digital locks"). TPMs are becoming invisible and ubiquitous, and what really bugs me about their protection in this bill is, first, that this protection takes back all the fair dealing it claims to offer; and, second, that TPMs are not intellectual property as defined by the traditional scope of copyright. So their protection has no place in C32 -- which otherwise might not be so bad.

    Shelving for now a more radical rejection of IP regulation tout court (which is, btw, what the USA itself did for its first century or so), it might be more pragmatic to insist the bill be fixed, not scrapped. Otherwise the issue goes  dormant for maybe five years or until the US Trade Dept gets grumbly again. (This was sort of what Michael Geist suggested at the ABC Copyright conference this spring.)

    Now, as for the principled refusal to use TPM-locked devices and content in teaching: I'm totally on board with that. I'm very wary about the growing adoption of e-books as course texts: e-books and their platforms are TPM'd to the hilt. And the US supreme court recently ruled that iTunes songs arrive sufficiently locked down that they shouldn't be called "purchases" at all. (You don't buy an iTunes song so much as you rent it, under a very strict lease.)

    But to effectively implement this practice will take some intensive monitoring. The more legitimacy they gain in IP law, the more Big Media corporations will apply them to any and every IP product.