Published Aug 23, 2009Writer, broadcaster and musician Charlie Angus is a former member of punk pioneers L'Étranger and Juno-nominated Grievous Angels. An outspoken NDP critic on copyright and Canadian cultural policy issues, Angus was commended by the Toronto Star in 2006 as one of the ten most effective opposition members of Parliament.
What do you think is the purpose of the current consultations?
Even a government as thick-headed as the Conservative have realized that they're going to get their fingers burned if they try to push through copyright reform without consulting the vast majority of people who are going to be affected by it. The previous bill, C-61 was bordering on ridiculous in its attempt to blur the line between criminal counterfeiting and legitimate personal use. The bill was dead on arrival because [to give it effect] you'd have to police every internet use, every home use and it's simply not feasible. I think they learned that simply relying on corporate lobbyists to dictate copyright just isn't realistic in the 21st century.
What parts of the law do you think changing as far as it affects independent musicians?
Number one, you have to push back against the misinformation campaign that's been launched by the very, very large corporate interests who are trying to use copyright not to protect artists but to impose an outdated business model. Canada's copyright laws need to be updated but that isn't to say that we are in any way some kind of digital banana republic, as is being claimed by the CRIA [Canadian Recording Industry Association, representing major labels] crowd. What's really important is, are we going to have forward looking copyright or backward looking copyright? We need to find ways to monetize the vast stream of information that's flowing so that artists are able to benefit. I am very concerned about the move from the lobbyists to try to impose a dead business model because I think that will hurt Canadian bands. Canadian bands know what it means to create new business models. We've never been able to survive by relying on having records racked in stores. The distances between our artists are too great, our audiences are too small; we're a country that has pioneered niche music marketing. So I would think most Canadian independent bands are way ahead in terms of new business, but what we need to do is make sure the copyright supports where Canadian acts are going and what they are doing with their music.
To compensate artists for unpaid file sharing, the Songwriters Association of Canada (SAC) and others have proposed a levy on internet use. Is this a realistic goal?
The ISPs are not keen, and that goes to a larger issue that needs to be discussed. I am not going to say how or what percent artists should get, but when your ISP is telling you that you can get faster and faster downloads, what do you need that for? You need it for entertainment. People are downloading movies and songs and so rather than criminalizing this behaviour or grabbing every tenth person out of the line and suing them for their house, we need to find a monetizing stream. That's a reasonable public discourse that should happen.
Canada has been heavily criticized for not adopting our own DMCA. Is that where we are headed?
If you want to look at failed policy, look at the DMCA. Even the author of the DMCA, whom I met at a conference in Montreal, surprised the crowd when he said, "Whatever you do, don't do what we did!" The DMCA is typical of the U.S. response to anything having to do with corporate responsibility: corporate ISPs are given blanket indemnity and yet [the music business] grab 15-year-olds and sue them. That's not a solution. I also don't think the three-strikes-you're-out solution is workable. Taking out individuals and making examples of them is not a solution. It's changing the frame of how we talk about copyright that will actually get us toward some solutions. Is the SAC proposal the solution? I'm not sure, but they show that artists want a seat at the table and they are saying, "We want to find alternative models that don't penalize people, but allow people to use our works."