Internet has changed how copyright works, Canadian law needs to catch up: prof

TORONTO (CUP) — University of Ottawa law professor and 2006 Hart House Lecturer Michael Geist wants U of T students to get excited about copyright law-and not just so that they know their rights when downloading music, photocopying textbooks, or burning DVDs.

Young people have embraced the internet and are among the new creators-and, importantly, sharers-of information, music, and photos and more. For that reason, they ought to care about copyright, he said.
“It’s their issue. And it’s their issue in so many ways,” Geist said Thursday before his lecture entitled “Our Own Creative Land: Cultural Monopoly and the Trouble with Copyright.”

“I think that for this generation and for millions today, the internet and new technology provide us with new voices:.Those new voices that the internet facilitates are your voices. And it really is U of T students who can turn to blogs, who can turn to a whole range of things to get creative, or to speak out, or to participate, and to do a range of things that previously might have been very difficult to do:Technology allows us to do that, and that’s a really good news story.”

Geist’s message appears to have gotten through to some. Students on the Hart House lecture committee were behind the effort to bring Geist to U of T.

“University students, being a technologically savvy bunch, are finding the way they want to consume culture is not the way traditional content creators want them to,” said one student member of the committee. “Michael Geist articulates an alternative vision of how copyright law can be modified to benefit consumers and creators alike.”

In front of cameras (the lecture was webcast live and will be broadcast on TVO) and aided by a slideshow, the quick-talking Geist set out to show how the internet is changing the way we distribute and collect information, and to make the case for a new copyright law that accommodates those changes.

He pointed to free information sites such as Wikipedia, Flickr, Youtube, and GarageBand, as examples of sites that are making information more accessible to more people, and bringing the average citizen into the copyright arena. On Wikipedia, for example, anyone can post information for others to read; on Flickr, anyone with a camera can post photos for the world to view and use; on Youtube, anyone can post home videos to the web.

Blogs contribute too, argued Geist. They provide public forums for ordinary citizens to share ideas and experiences in a way that very few could before, he said. Even mainstream newspapers are becoming more “bloggy,” with journalist Andrew Coyne’s column in the National Post and his blog becoming increasingly difficult to tell apart, Geist said.

This new culture of accessible information through the internet can benefit conventional businesses, too, said Geist. He examined instances in the print, publishing, television, and radio industries where the internet has helped buoy flagging companies.

The problem in Canada is that copyright law has not been changed to account for such changes, but changes are on the horizon. The fear, argued Geist, is that Canada will take an approach to it that ignores the potential of the internet in making for a more open and creative society.
The Canadian public, as bloggers, Wikipedia users, and Youtube video watchers, ought to play a role in determining that future.

“Canada, led by its policy makers and political leaders, faces a choice,” said Geist. “We can continue down the path of ever-stronger copyright laws that fail to meet the broader public interest. Alternatively, we can seize our own creative land by embracing copyright policies that look ahead rather than back.”

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