Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Copyright and Compensation

How much should a copyright holder be paid for usage. Big issue for the billionaires that run the entertainment industry and who have always made a huge profit on the backs of the creative types.
In Canada this issue has come into focus again with the introduction of bill C-61.
What constitutes fair compensation? Associated Press thinks it has an equitable system. If you want to quote an AP article on your blog it'll cost you $12.95 to quote 5 words on your blog.

You get a big discount if you are an educator. $7.50/5 words. Whoopee.

I don't know what is fair but I can't see that letting industry groups decide will ever translate into fairness.
I know when Banks got into digitizing their processes they figured out a scheme that seems to have worked very well for them. Use to be that cheque processing fees were getting up to around CND $1.20 per transaction. The rationale was that people had to handle all the paper and process the transactions and the wages were to high so they had to keep increasing the transaction fees. When they went to digital transactions they realized that people would not tolerate these exorbitant fees so they cut the fees for handling digital transactions to $.60 per transaction, a fairly common rate that still exists. No paper moves, not human hands touch your transaction and some estimates suggest that it actually costs the banks about $.06 per transaction. They laid off tellers and employees, set up ATM's and the modern bank was created. They have been beavering away reducing the costs of handling transactions even further and no doubt have their costs way below that. As a result Banks have been doing quite well and they seem to have been able to get away with charging what they want. Doesn't seem to matter what Bank you use, they are all about the same. hmmm.

So letting corporations decide what is fair probably won't work out to good for the rest of us. There was a thing called the Tobin Tax that was introduced by a economist that proposed an electronic tax on currency transactions.
I've been watching this issue for a while and participated in the campaign to have Bill-C61 rejected. I read the Globe and Mail article referenced above and it mainly highlights the perception that nothing is clear and nobody seems to be able to clarify things, least of the Minister of Industry who is proposing the Bill. Mostly I have been following the discussion in the education blogosphere and the Michael Geist blog is a major resource.

I know that there has been intense lobbying by the entertainment industry and last election one major candidate who was expected to have this portfolio in a Liberal government received major campaign contributions from pro-copyright outfits prompting big concerns about conflict of interest and interference.

My grasp of all the ramifications of the latest proposed legislation is somewhat limited but as an observer of political processes I find the situation interesting and I can help feeling that the bests interests of the Canadian public are not being served by our elected officials.

Jim Prentice, the Minister of Industry seems like a capable person but with a limited understandings of the concepts of the Internet. His Wikipedia entry was edited to remove any criticism of his handling of this file and replaced by laudatory statements about the Minister great virtues. There appeared to be a Wikipedia edit war until someone used Wikiscanner and checked the IP's of all edits and they were determined to all originate from the Industry Canada servers. Wikipedia locked down the entry and the comments about Prentice's involvement with Bill C-61 and his efforts to edit Wikipedia still stand last I checked. I think it embarrassed his office and led to a widely held perception that neither he nor his Ministry really understood what they were doing. The appearance of members of the Public Service altering a public record on (taxpayer paid) company time was an additional irritant.

As regards the notion of fair return for the use of intellectual property it is also a bit of a boondoggle. It is difficult to determine but it seems likely that the copyright holders are more interested in a "what ever the traffic will bear" approach to pricing. There was an additional flurry of alarm in the blogosphere this week when Wired reported on the Associated Press policy and pricing structure for the use of AP material in blogs. It starts at $12.95 for a 5 WORD quote. (The pay-page has since been taken down)

The question of how to collect for the use of intellectual property in an information economy will have to be addressed. This issue has been around for a while and it reminds me of the so called Tobin Tax issue. This was a proposal to mitigate the damaging effects of currency speculators by imposing a leve on all cross boarder currency transactions. This proposal bogged down because of the impracticality of having all countries agree to the imposition of such a tax and the question of who would be the tax collector and how would the proceeds be distribute.

Similar issues face any coherent approach to setting fair rates for IP and the collection and distribution of compensation. These problems may become fairy short lived when the full effect of the information economy is realized and the impossibility of managing information becomes apparent. So for the time being the copyright lawyers are doing well and that doesn't usually bode well for humans on either side of any debate.

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