Room Enough For Everyone :: Canada On the Web

The Tyee is carrying Michael Geist’s succinct report about the upcoming hearings at the CRTC over the future of Internet regulation in Canada. Most of these proposals don’t make any sense – imposing Canadian content requirements on commercial Canadian websites is dubious at best – how would web content hosts respond to such a scheme? Move south? Sign up with godaddy instead of geohost? We would merely, in some roughshod form or other, reproduce the old Can-U.S. media order, with cross-border broadcasters, Canadian-edition web sites and services (the model of ebay.ca/amazon.ca would extend into domains like flickr.ca, or worse, twitter.ca. yuck), and we’d unnecessarily introduce barriers to communication in what is a global, low-barrier-to-entry medium.

About a year ago I was asked to give an opinion to SOCAN to help inform their proposal. I argued that the Internet is highly resistant to regulation by its technical design (summed up in my persistent “the internet is filesharing” slogan above). I actually agree with SOCAN somewhat – I do support an ISP tax to reward content creators – a levy collected and monitored in ways like SOCAN already does for radio, television, and live performance. Such a proposal would meet little resistance from the public (who cares about an additional 5 bucks on your 70 dollar a month broadband bill? especially if it permits one to download anything with impunity), and would install a theoretically fair (if fairly monitored and redistributed) royalty system by which artists (and the companies they sign their lives away to) get paid.

But this idea needs to be isolated from the wider proposals to reproduce Canadian content regulations which worked (albeit in a broken fashion) during one media epoch, but won’t work within our present media ecology. The Internet is not a scarce medium like broadcast, and so there is room enough for everyone.

But underscoring this point, carriers should not be free to dictate how users access the Internet, which has attained something of the status of a public utility in common understanding. If we want to make room enough for everyone, we need to build networks that are accessible by all, using whatever hardware or software, on an equal footing. This means a nationwide broadband and wireless strategy; this also means Net Neutrality. It also means government support for community wireless initiatives.

The battle for an open Internet that gets along with content creators’ desire for remuneration needn’t be that difficult here. It’s much worse in mobile (where there is a scarcity), as I’ve been saying all along.

Vote for Fair Copyright and Culture

I’ve been brewing up a post that I’d hoped to release today, reflecting on the experience of indie music promotion and how it’s changed in a very short time (2-3 years), but I’m putting that on hold, as there are more important matters to address. Specifically, the fate of creators and the creative industries in Canada.

In case you didn’t already know, we’ve got an incumbent minority government that unilaterally, and without Parliamentary debate, slashed approximately $45 million in funding to the Arts this summer. In addition, this same government has been repeatedly trying to introduce U.S.-style copyright reform legislation that, much like our PM’s speeches, appear to be plagiarized from foreign documents. The framing given for this proposed legislation is that it is intended to protect creators’ rights. Clearly, given the recent funding cuts, not to mention the characterization of artists as “spoiled children“, this claim is hypocritical. Some argue it’s de facto censorship.

Among the myriad reasons to not vote for the Conservative Party of Canada (hey, Net Neutrality!), their inconsistent positions on the value of artists, musicians, authors, and other creatives should convince anyone still disposed to vote for them to change their minds. Either the Conservatives have not thought these policies through (the charitable view), or they have thought this contradiction through and are happy with it – seizing upon any opportunities to reinforce copyright protections for the IP of big business and abandon public funding for creatives.

Michael Geist has posted a Copyright Pledge, which many candidates have signed already, with many more coming on board as I write this. If you care about fair copyright, and if you don’t want to see U.S.-style infringements on Canadians’ privacy, or their rights to fair dealing, then find a candidate you can vote for in this list, or vote-swap if you have to to ensure the Conservative party of Canada does not form even a minority government this time around. Fair copyright policies enable us all to quote, copy, reuse, mix and match, you know, the basic stuff that beings that have and make culture do (there are no arts without copying or mimicry). To vote against fair copyright drives a stake in the heart of participatory culture and media. The foundations of this very Internet medium, and our rights to participate in culture at all are right now at stake.

And now – the punchline. If you haven’t already seen this, or if you’re unfamiliar with the terrain of arts funding in a bilingual, multicultural Canada, this video says it all:

Torrent Tracking on Open Networks 101

Today is Northern Voice (I’m presenting tomorrow, but today is the unconference, most of which I hope to catch!), but right now I’m riveted to my laptop (poring over comments about torrent tracking) before I head out to UBC. Really good back n forth over at Nicholas Weaver’s Random Thoughts regarding claims as to whether it’s actually possible to block torrent traffic (more over at Copyfight). I’m convinced such tracking measures can be circumvented and that torrent sharing can’t be stopped. These debates seem to reaffirm this position, notwithstanding drilling into the tech nitty-gritty.

To repeat – the web is an Open network. Strategies to Close it go against its grain, and are stupendously impractical if not impossible.

The Internet Is Filesharing :: On ISP Levies and Creators’ Rights to Remuneration in Canada

I was recently asked by the Songwriters’ Association of Canada (SAC) to submit a briefing on why file sharing is inevitable, and why a levy system for ISPs makes sense. (The SAC is in the process of submitting a proposal along these lines to the Canadian government, in light of the political deliberations over where our copyright law is headed).

Here‘s the draft of my briefing to them (PDF, 176K). The gist of it? The internet IS file sharing. Comment, suggest revisions, and correct me where I’m wrong, if you please.

Read the SAC’s Proposal and sign up to support it here.

Technical Micropolitics and Musical Amateurs

I presented at AOIR today as part of a panel on Music and Sound. Here’s the PDF of my talk, complete with notes.

I did this with an extreme headache, and a growing sense that I need to, as my friend and colleague Flo articulated it the other day, “coccoon” myself in books again for a while. Assez des conférences maintenant!

4S, Montreal

Production-consumption continuumI’m blogging this from the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) conference in Montréal. We (Roy Bendor, Jack Post, Peter-Paul Verbeek and I) just completed our panel on Bruno Latour (“Translating Latour”) and I’m now in a very interesting panel about “Problematizing Technological Appropriation”. My first impression is that it’s a great complement to my presentation on digital music and Latour/Hennion, which I’ve attached as a PDF here (PDF, 364 K, with notes!).

The theoretical work around appropriation has really flowered since I first stepped into this space in 2004. It’s interesting – and reassuring – to witness so many theorists constructing diagrams of production/consumption that echo, build upon, and totally dwarf in profundity the one I first proposed then (at right). I’m referring to the work of Ron Eglash – who has constructed a continuum of production and consumption that accounts for appropriation, power and marginality. Cool stuff – I should be reading this.

Other than that, I’m running on a third wave of sleep denial therapy induced by (1) a sleepless redeye flight on the same day I taught for a ten hour day, (2) compressed conference schedule (2 within 2 weeks), and (3) baby’s sleeping schedule. I’ll sleep after my head is over-full with musings on the ethics of cloning, toppling streetcars in the 19th century, the programmable web, Yahoo Pipes and postphenomenology. What dreams may come?

P2P in Canada

I was interviewed this morning for Global National on the subject of P2P lawsuits by the RIAA. Every time there’s some sensational story to be mined, the television media seem to jump. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

I tried to stay focused on the Canadian angle, making the points that (1) ISPs in Canada are not obliged to reveal the identities attached to IP addresses and (2) despite pressure from the CRIA (Canada’s branch plant of the RIAA), Canada’s private copying levy (among other things) makes such lawsuits unlikely to succeed here. I also tried to make the point that free distribution of music hurts only a small fraction of musicians (mainly the big celebrities), and that trends in the ongoing reshaping of the music industry confirm this pattern. Hopefully, the messaging is clear on the news tonight. Hopefully I look OK.

They also wanted to film me downloading the new Radiohead LP, but I had already paid for it late last night (FYI – I shelled out £5), and the downloading cannot happen yet. So they got some shots of my torrent search bar and some farting around on emusic (the most recent Twilight Circus Dub Soundsystem is ace, btw!). That’s good – hopefully the people watching Global will pick up a few tips on how to take control of their music acquisition practices back from the iTunes Music Store and its ilk.