In a struggle to be happy and free

Drystone Wall

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Upsetting the balance

Copyright protection is an artificial construct. Without copyright, new artistic creations would enter the public domain and become part of our culture as soon as artists release their works. With copyright protection, the government allows artists to enjoy exclusive control of their creations for a set period to encourage their creativity. Then, when the copyright period on their work expires, it enters the public domain so anyone can build upon it to enrich our culture. You can look at it as a compromise. The public is not allowed to take full advantage of new creations to encourage artists to create more. It’s good for both the artists and the public, as long as it maintains a balance between the interested parties.

In the past, copyright has worked differently than it does now. Under the Copyright Act of 1842, copyright protection lasted for the life of the creator plus 7 years, or 42 years from publication (whichever was greater). The Copyright Act 1842 was a British law which affected Canada, since Canada was a British colony at the time. After Confederation, Canada enacted its own copyright regulation, the Copyright Act of 1875, which change the period of protection to an initial term of 28 years, with option to renew for another 14 years.

Today, things are quite different. The terms of copyright protection depend on the artistic work. For example, if you write a song, copyright will protect the song for the length of your life, plus 50 years. If you record the song and release it, the recording, until very recently, would enjoy copyright protection for 50 years from the recording date. Why the song itself and a recording of the song have different terms, I don’t know. In once sense, it doesn’t matter because while the recording is protected for only 50 years, the recording is merely one performance of the song, and the song is protected for the artist’s life, plus 50 years. Once the first 50 years expires, the recording falls into the public domain, but the song (the composition itself) is still protected.

Earlier I said that until recently, a recording enjoys copyright protection for 50 years. This is because in the latest federal budget, the Conservative government extended copyright protection on recorded works from 50 years to 70 years. Certainly copyright issues are not at all related to the budget, but this government is absolutely in love with omnibus bills, in which they include all sorts of unrelated items in the hopes that comparatively unimportant, but unpalatable items, are accepted because of the higher profile, more desirable items in the bill. This is why a copyright extension appears in a budget.

But honestly, does a 70-year term of copyright protection really serve the balance for which copyright was created? I’d suggest that it does not. To encourage the creation of artistic works, copyright protection must expire so the artist is encouraged to create new items. It’s not hard to imagine that the bulk of most artists’ creative output occurs after they are 20 years old. Most people don’t live until the age of 90, so a 70 year protection is effectively life-long. If the artist hits it big and has enough money to live on, they need not create anything ever again. This does not at all serve the public.

The first copyright protection in the United States had a term of only 14 years, with a 7 year renewal being an option. Now that would certainly encourage an artist to keep creating new works!

Of course the elephants in the room are the record companies. They’re the ones who want the longest term possible, because they hold the copyright on the artist’s work. Handing them ownership of the copyright is a term of the record contract. For all their belly aching about how the artist needs protection, it’s really their own interested they serve. This clear when you consider the terms of a record deal. The record companies to everything they can to make sure the artist makes as little as possible.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He is always ready to help out a business pal.

So here we have a government who extended the copyright term on recorded works. No one saw this coming. There was no public consultation, no debate, and not even any notification that this was being considered. Yet as soon as the government released the budget, literally minutes later, Music Canada (representing Sony, Warner, and Universal Music) posted a press release stating how pleased they were at this announcement. Further, Prime Minister Stephen Harper wrote to Music Canada President Graham Henderson stating that he felt a 50 year copyright term wasn’t sufficient to protect artists, so it would be extended to 70 years. The letter was dated April 11, 2015, the same day the government tabled the budget. All the big U.S. labels had to do is write a letter and ask for the copyright term extension and the Prime Minister fell all over himself in compliance. I’ve written the Prime Minister several times and I can assure you that I’ve yet to even receive a reply, much less get what I want.

In the balance between the artists who create the music and the public who buys and enjoys it, who does the Harper government reward so richly? Neither of course. They shower favour upon the foreign companies who do their absolute best to screw both the artists and the public.

This is the Harper government, at its finest.

The mayor remains mum

I have yet to hear back from the mayor regarding the letter I sent him. I find this surprising. When has a politician hesitated to ingratiate himself/herself to a voter? At an absolute minimum, I expected a form-letter reply about how he’s always glad to hear about his constituents’ thoughts. But no, not even that. I guess I’m just not worth the trouble.

There was a city council meeting yesterday, and I decided to attend because the practice of opening council meetings with prayer was on the agenda. It was an almost sombre affair. The meeting opened with a moment of silence and introspection, then a performer sang the national anthem. The meeting chair got right into it when he explained that the Supreme Count of Canada ruled that prayer during city council meetings was a big no-no so they were doing to stop doing it. The question was what they would do instead. The quotes I read in the newspaper seemed to indicate some councillors took the Supreme Court ruling as a personal affront, and I expected some resistance. Happily, I was wrong.

Unfortunately, the chair noted that he was certain that some would be offended by anything they might choose to do, even a moment of silence. In my opinion, poking at the city residents who spoke up about being treated unfairly wasn’t the best first step in trying to find a solution to the problem. It was a minor quip on the chair’s part, however. I’m just glad that they managed to come up with something everyone can live with.

The result is either a moment of silence followed by the anthem, or perhaps replacing the silence with an entirely non-religious inspirational quote. They also decided that if a councillor will recite an inspirational, they must run it by city staff first.

A reporter from the local paper attended (or watched the meeting on the community cable channel) and wrote about the issue.

The only real surprise was Councillor Victor Pietrangelo stating that he felt that the Supreme Court decision doesn’t include everyone, but it rather excludes everyone. I think he’s going out of his way to split hairs because there is no way to include everyone, unless Council meetings start with a prayer from every religion, and a moment of silence for the irreligious. One can see how impractical this would be!

While I disagree with Pietrangelo, I think that with Council following the Supreme Court ruling, everyone will be treated the same, which is still an improvement over the way it has been to this point.

My letter to the mayor

May 2, 2015
Mayor Jim Diodati
4310 Queen Street
Niagara Falls, Ontario
L2E 6X5

Mayor Diodati,

I read “Pope’s prayer draws criticism” in the Niagara Falls Review on Thursday. The article stated that you announced a council meeting would open with a deputation for peace that Councillor Victor Pietrangelo then read.

I’m not going to get into rights, or freedom of religion. What you’ve done by having a prayer written by Pope Pius XII recited as part of a council meeting is exclude everyone who is of a different faith, or no faith at all. You and the city council represent everyone in the city. Not just the Catholics, but everyone.

I respect your beliefs. I respect Councillor Morocco’s beliefs as well, but she seems to be more about division than inclusion. She’s quoted in the article, saying,

What are they going to do? Throw us out of our seats?

Right there she’s invoking an ‘us’ and ‘them’ division that has no place in city government … especially when she’s talking about herself and her constituents!

If Council feels that it’s appropriate to recite a Catholic prayer during council meetings, you’re telling all the city residents who are not Catholics that they are not being represented. It seems that the easiest solution would be to treat all beliefs equally and not incorporate any sort of prayer or deputation as part of the council meetings. Framing this as denying councillors their individual faiths is completely misrepresenting the issue. It’s about denying non-Catholics the special treatment the Catholics on the council currently enjoy. That some councillors think this is entirely appropriate has me wondering why they want to be councillors at all.

Imagine if councillors actively worked toward promoting their own individual economic advantage, rather than the good of the city at large. What would happen? They wouldn’t last long, because they’re supposed to be there for all of us! So why is promoting their own personal religious faiths somehow acceptable?

In preparing this letter, I checked Friday’s Review and found you quoted in “Falls council to drop prayer/invocation?” as saying,

The reason why so many immigrants want to come to Canada is because they are able to express their religion, their customs, their cultures.

I question whether you really understand the issue. Immigrants being free to express their religion is praying in their own faiths at home and being subjected to Catholic prayer if they take enough of an interest in city government to attend city council meetings? That’s freedom of religion to you?

The outrage I read in the article from the councillors at having their special treatment questioned makes me wonder. They’re telling me in no uncertain terms that I’m not part of their privileged group. Shouldn’t city councillors instead treat all the city residents equally and encourage as much inclusion as possible?

So let me ask you plainly, do you and the city councillors represent all the city residents, or do you plan to continue to show favour to the city residents who share your faith. Everyone in Niagara Falls deserves to know.

I look forward to your reply, Mr. Mayor.

CC: Niagara Falls Review, Letters to the Editor
CC: Niagara Falls City Councillor Joyce Morocco
CC: Niagara Falls City Councillor Victor Pietrangelo

The case for mocking religion

Islam makes very large claims for itself. In its art, there is a prejudice against representing the human form at all. The prohibition on picturing the prophet — who was only another male mammal — is apparently absolute. So is the prohibition on pork or alcohol or, in some Muslim societies, music or dancing. Very well then, let a good Muslim abstain rigorously from all these. But if he claims the right to make me abstain as well, he offers the clearest possible warning and proof of an aggressive intent. This current uneasy coexistence is only an interlude, he seems to say. For the moment, all I can do is claim to possess absolute truth and demand absolute immunity from criticism. But in the future, you will do what I say and you will do it on pain of death.

Christopher Hitchens, “Cartoon Debate,” Slate, February 2006

The SCoC, and then more

The week before last, on June 13, the Supreme Court of Canada handed down a ruling that took me completely by surprise.

The case involved Matthew David Spencer. Police saw him downloading child pornography, though they didn’t know it was him. All they knew was the IP address from which the files were downloaded. They traced the address and went to the ISP to whom it belonged and did what they’ve done so many times in recent years. They simply asked the ISP for the name and the street address of the person who was using the IP address when they saw the child pornography being downloaded. No harm, right? The police simply asked, to save time. If the ISP refused, they’d go through channels to get a warrant. If the ISP co-operated, they’d save the time and trouble of getting a warrant.

The ISP did co-operate without a warrant, and as a consequence, police arrested Spencer and the court convicted him. The ISP’s simply handing over his name and address didn’t sit well with him so Spencer appealed his judgement. The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal affirmed his conviction stating that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy for basic subscriber information. Spencer took it to the Supreme Court of Canada and they ruled unanimously in his favour, which has enormous implications for all of us. I have no doubt that Spencer is disappointed because the Court let his conviction stand, stating that the police acted in good faith, and justice would not be served if they reversed the decision.

According to Michael Geist’s post, “Supreme Court Delivers Huge Victory for Internet Privacy & Blows Away Gov’t Plans for Reform,” the Court stated,

in the totality of the circumstances of this case, there is a reasonable expectation of privacy in the subscriber information. The disclosure of this information will often amount to the identification of a user with intimate or sensitive activities being carried out online, usually on the understanding that these activities would be anonymous. A request by a police officer that an ISP voluntarily disclose such information amounts to a search.

The point being that a police search without a warrant is a definite no-no, and one does have a reasonable expectation of anonymity going about their business on the Internet. Because that expectation is entirely short-circuited by an ISP connecting an IP address with a user on request, police require a warrant. This flies in the face of what law enforcement and the Conservative government have been telling us. They’ve stated that subscriber information is not in any way private, and therefore should be available on request, if the ISP co-operates.

The timing of this Supreme Court decision is fortuitous. Not only has the Conservative government been telling us that police should have easy access to this information, but they have two bills they seem desperate to see made laws: Bill C‑13, which is intended to crack down on cyberbullying, and Bill S‑4, to be known as the digital privacy act. In particular, bill C‑13 would make it legal for companies to release customer information to police or government representatives simply for the asking, and protect those companies from any legal reprisal. Clearly, the Supreme Court decision states this is unconstitutional.

So given that their two bills are in a shambles, what does the Government plan to do? They seem to plan to ignore the Supreme Court’s decision. Minister of Justice, Peter MacKay, said,

The Supreme Court’s decision actually confirms what the government has said all along, that Bill C‑13’s proposals regarding voluntary disclosures do not provide legal authority for access to information without a warrant.

Yet bill c‑13 states,

487.0195 (1) For greater certainty, no preservation demand, preservation order or production order is necessary for a peace officer or public officer to ask a person to voluntarily preserve data that the person is not prohibited by law from preserving or to voluntarily provide a document to the officer that the person is not prohibited by law from disclosing.

(2) A person who preserves data or provides a document in those circumstances does not incur any criminal or civil liability for doing so.

It is true that ‘the person’ in question here is under no legal obligation to provide the information, but this is certainly splitting hairs. Telecom companies currently do provide this information on a vast scale. Legislating that they are able to do so without liability will only encourage them to do so more freely. And further, the current law states that this information may be requested by a

peace officer or public officer enforcing or administering this or any other Act of Parliament

In other words, police may request this type of information for the benefit of a police investigation of violation of the Criminal Code or any other federal law. Bill C‑13 removes this stipulation entirely.

The government is wasting their time and your money by pushing ahead with legislation that will, if passed, be struck down the first time it is challenged on constitutional grounds. Why? I really don’t know. Certainly Prime Minister Harper is accustomed to getting his way, and he doesn’t react well when he is denied. Make no mistake, in this case, he will be denied.

The Supreme Court is not the only dissenting voice. Earlier this week, Forum Research released the results of a poll detailing how Canadians feel about Bill C‑13. According to Techvibes,

The poll shows that 73% of Canadians oppose C‑13, with just 15% approving a ratio of nearly 5 to 1.


opposition spans every age group and is strongest among 18 – 34 year olds (78%) and 55 – 64 year olds (74%).

Harper will find no support among his own, either. reports,

Notably, the poll reveals that just 24% of Conservative voters support the bill, with 62% opposing it.

It’s time for the Conservatives to put these two bills to bed. They’re past being stubborn about it, having clearly shown that whatever agenda they’re working on has nothing to do with protecting Canadians.

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