Last night (2006.03.30), Michael Geist, the law professor, columnist, and copyright activist with the terrible Web site, delivered the annual Hart House Lecture at, indeed, Hart House, University of Toronto. It carried the title “Our Own Creative Land: Cultural Monopoly & the Trouble with Copyright.”

I was glad I went, but I learned almost nothing new. Geist is a strong, fluent, likable speaker and looks quite boyish – although, speaking from experience, it may be time to go the short-hair route.

My esteemed colleague and I hauled arse across town mindful of the warning that they’d give our tickets away if we weren’t there 15 minutes early. (They didn’t.) A near-capacity crowd sat on Protestant-church-style chairs in the vaulted stone Great Hall and watched a slideshow of unvarnished Creative Commons propaganda, including unreadably dense Arial-typeset information slides and ill-chosen Flickr images. We also listened to Creative Commons–licensed “music,” much of which sounded like a bucktoothed piano student’s attempt to play old Charlie Brown TV special theme songs from memory.

The warden of Hart House, Margaret Hancock, introduced the evening. Mentioned the responsibilities of active citizenship, attracting innovative and emerging thinkers on issues of interest to young people and beyond. In 2005, the student committee selected copyright as an issue for the Lecture. But she worried “the subject might be a little bit too dry or even boring… Sorry, Michael.”

She had a hard time uttering the word “blogosphere” (acting as though each syllable were a separate word) and laughed. “A number of us – well, at least I – are quite illiterate when it comes to Creative Commons.” The book to be available at the end of the lecture (more below) is licensed under Creative Commons. Before the session, organizers held a Creative Commons music-creation contest.

The warden introduced the evening’s moderatrix, the much-unloved Sharon Lewis, standing a proud 4′11″ and glitteringly blinged-out to within an inch of her life. Lewis is the former hostess of CBC Zed, which position she attained by somehow winning a 2003 hosting bake-off over superior candidates like Mio and Nobu Adilman. (It was on that program that she described herself as “a black South Asian woman.” Who knew the true extent of African diaspora?) Hancock told us that Lewis “is living creatively with what I’m talking about.”

Lewis took the stage, but held a wireless mike and did not stand behind the podium “because I’m really short and you won’t see me behind there.” Described herself as a “content creator,” then a “professional artist.” The organizers asked her if it would be OK to Webcast the evening. She said yes; her union said no. “Obviously it’s not a copyright issue” – indeed it isn’t, so why are we talking about it? – “but that really drove home what Michael Geist is doing.” “What Michael Geist leads us to believe is we can be leaders and pioneers in shaping a copyright law” that makes Canada a global leader.

Lecture by Geist

Geist arrives onstage. Throughout his presentation, he was aided by PowerPoint-style (but probably actually Keynote) slides, nearly all typeset in lower-case black Utopia on a bright white background, with much too wide a measure and too little lead. He did a Lessig and zipped from slide to slide to match his utterances keyword for keyword. I’ve seen Lessig do it and it’s beyond fantastic.

Tufte can go to hell: Nobody “PowerPoints” better than Lawrence Lessig, in part because he uses reverse type and makes it readable. Geist has some improving to do in this regard. I’ve been reading words off screens for a quarter-century and had a good angle and distance on the screen, yet even I just totally gave up. (It was the first thing my esteemed colleague complained about at the end.) Further, Geist’s displayed screenshots were often poorly selected; the secret is cropping and zooming.

He tells us his parents drove from Florida to attend the lecture and arrived a mere two hours before. The whole gamut of sites like Flickr is truly amazing in how they’ve embraced what he’s talking about. Based on the organizing and work of the Hart House student committee, “you can’t but be an optimist” about the future of copyright.

He recounts the story of how, some months ago, he received a file attachment via E-mail promoting a fundraiser for Sam Bulte, MP, whom “many would say… was the lead MP on copyright.” When he looked at the list of supporters holding the event, including the Canadian Recording Industry Association and many other copyright [cartels], it “gave me pause.” Holding it four days before an election “sent a bad message,” particularly concerning the proposed new copyright legislation, Bill C-60.

He thought the issue would die from lack of attention until a blog posted about it. Geist showed a dozen or more screenshots of coverage by other blogs and old-media sites. He ran the now-infamous video of Bulte at an all-candidates’ meeting denouncing Michael Geist and his “pro-user zealots.” After that video began circulating, the old-media’s angle became about bloggers. But that misses the real story.

He has three lessons for us tonight: New voices, new stakeholders, new copyright.

  1. New voices: The blogosphere and other creators are changing expression, changing the way we communicate. It’s one of the good-news stories about the Internet, as contrasted with spam and the like. Apart from blogs, there are other kinds of content creation – GarageBand, MySpace, PostSecret, fan fiction (“which I must admit I don’t quite get”). “People who are living through their culture” and finding new ways to express it. Mentions the BBC Creative Archive, BBC Backstage.

    Content-sharing: Not just P2P. Think of Flickr, “one of the great Canadian success stories,” with the founders realizing that there are millions of people with digicams and a desire to share their photos. (Not quite. Flickr was an unforeseen offshoot of an immersive-video-game project.)

    Creative Commons, iCommons, Science Commons, ccMixter. SoundClick has 218,238 Creative Commons–licensed songs. A Spanish music collective took a broadcaster to court over its practice of telecasting Creative Commons–licensed music without paying royalties. The judge tossed out the case, a ruling the collective refused to accept. (Does that mean they appealed it? Or they just refuse to accept Creative Commons licensing?) Wikipedia, Wikinews, Wikibooks, Project Gutenberg, the Public Library of Science, the Internet Archive and Prelinger, Google Scholar and Book Search.

    Open source isn’t just about the information; it’s also about software. Firefox, Thunderbird, Apache, Linux, Open Office, Joomla (what?), SourceForge. “In other words, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet in terms of open-source software” and “what’s going to hit the market soon.”

    Readership of print newspapers is stable (he said “flat”) in Canada, on the decline in the U.S. Mentions the Toronto Star, where he is a columnist. Shows the online pageviews of financial sites in 2002 and 2005. Wall Street Journal succeeds with its subscription model, increasing from 1.1 to 3.3 million. FT.com goes from 1.3 to 1.8 million, but “you should do this [kind of increased business] even if you don’t change your Web site, frankly.” Fortune decreased from 1.7 to 1.3 million; it’s “remarkable” to somehow decrease your pageviews in a time of Web growth. But Forbes jumped from 1.7 to 7.8 million by realizing they were in the ad business and opening up the site.

    Canadian book sales are relatively stable. Describes the long tail. Try finding Canadian books at U.S. sites or bookstores: “So much of Canadian literature is this long tail.” (That fact would have been more impressive had he uttered another truth, that Canadian literature is long-tail in Canada.)

    He edited the book In the Public Interest, available for download.

    TV viewing is decreasing among the young but increasing among older viewers. Shows video page of iTunes Music Store. “I’d be willing to wager that if you came back to this page in a year, you’d find everything.” The Guiding Light started as a radio soap opera, then became a television series, and has now returned to its roots as an audio-only podcast.

    YouTube: “The clip culture.” Video games: Companies are setting up shop in Canada because the skills are here. CineClix sells indie-film downloads. Radio is dying in the youth market, but KYOU in San Francisco is all podcast all the time, whatever that means.

    Music: Sales have declined since 1999, which some attribute to P2P networks. “I’ve written quite a lot” about what else might account for the decline, like DVD sales. PureTracks (q.v.) “uses a digital-rights-management system that does not allow me to use it – I’m a Macintosh user – but I presume there are people who can.” (Touché!)

    The foregoing “is the great news story. I’m tempted to just walk off stage and say ‘Wasn’t that phenomenal?’ ”

  2. New stakeholders: He lists the old stakeholders as lobby groups, industry associations, collectives, education groups, librarians. Users and creators are represented only indirectly.

    Gives his history lesson of Canadian copyright, now a standard feature of his lectures and far too fast to retain. Mentions copyright exemptions, including one for “people with visual disabilities.” (Not quite. It’s “perceptual disabilities.”) Says the courts told us those exemptions were nearly moot and we could simply rely on fair dealing.

    During a round of copyright consultation, 600 people wrote in with comments, all of which were lumped into the Individuals category. Over a thousand people signed a petition concerning a bill that hadn’t been written yet. He claims hundreds of thousands of people were interested in the Bulte story. He was most concerned with nine people, the Supremes. Their 2002 Théberge ruling warned against excessive control that would unduly limit copyright and its usage.

    How does the system account for new stakeholders? “Not so well.” He says the government met with only a few groups “in a room much smaller than this one” before proposing the de facto Lucy Maud Montgomery Copyright Term Extension Act in 2003. “Some of the new stakeholders caught wind of it and became quite vocal.”

    A 2004 report by Bulte’s committee sided with the old stakeholders. Bill C-60 in 2005 had “very little about what new stakeholders were talking about.” “When people see the Bulte fundraiser… people see more of the same.”

  3. New copyright (section not actually introduced; I infer it here): People want new copyright – not the elimination of copyright (“far from it”). Tells us that Ed Felten has self-censored every paper he’s presented except the one that got him a threat of lawsuit. Says that Felten knew about the Sony rootkit for months before it was publicized, but was tied up with lawyers and somebody else had to blow the whistle. (Geist’s slide during this discussion shows Felten and a forest of company logos, including an unexplained Monotype Imaging logo.)

    “In many respects, this legislation” is about the Internet of 1995. “We need policies that look like the internet of 2005–2006.” We need “our own creative land.” That was the only time he mentioned the title of his lecture.

    1. A Canadian-style WIPO implementation (e.g., by linking DRM to copyright exemptions).
    2. A fair-use model for education. Fair dealing “is a great gift,” but “that isn’t good enough”; there are “all sorts of other terrific [usages] that fall through the cracks.”
    3. Access to knowledge via a national digital library. We could digitize every Canadian book in five years at a fraction of the cost of what Heritage spends on culture. (Really. What format, exactly? And do not say “PDF.”)
    4. Choose creativity: Abolish crown copyright. “We don’t need a permission culture with respect to our own politicians or… our government documents.”
    5. A notice-and-notice system for allegations of online copyright infringement, as opposed to the U.S. notice-and-takedown system.
    6. Privacy rights.
    7. Choose innovation: No DRM; give us the freedom to tinker.
    8. Choose research: Open-access scientific publication, especially for federally-funded research (including some of his, he told us).
    9. “A culture of sharing.”
    10. Choose public broadcasting.
    11. Choose culture by freezing copyright terms. “There is simply no reason, no justification” to expand terms to life plus 75 years. “Nobody cares from a creativity perspective today about terms.”
    12. Choose balance, with user rights as a full partner. “I hear too frequently that user rights are just an exception. Nah-nah-nah,” not according to the Supreme Court.


Sharon Lewis (“and Bram”) sets us up for questions by noting that Geist had been named one of the top 40 under 40. (“Sounds like the Top Sexiest Man in Law.”)

  1. Q. from man: How many times did user groups seek meetings with the government yet were turned down?

    A. Doesn’t know. Wasn’t listed in the documents he received via access to information. It isn’t policymakers’ job to sit back and wait for input; they must reach out. He can appreciate they were taken aback by the flood of responses. But “I’d like to think it’s the responsibility of government” to provide support for user groups, as they do for [cartels].

  2. Q. Does Canada have the power to make decisions about copyright given the WIPO treaties and the influence of international corporate interests? Can Canada compete internationally if it is less attractive to international corporations?

    A. I actually think we compete best when we put Canadian interests first. It’s not about the copyright. We can thrive if the approach we take encourages creativity. Companies do not refuse to set up shop here because terms of copyright are life plus 50. We don’t know what Internet 2015 is going to look like.

  3. Q. What about placing some of the regulatory functions of copyright into the hands of the CRTC? Does it matter who has such authority?

    A. CRTC shied away from copyright decisions, as in satellite radio. (Talks about universality, net neutrality. The remainder was too boring to note.)

  4. Q. With the change in government, what will happen in the upcoming years?

    A. Everybody wonders that. Copyright isn’t one of the Conservatives’ five priorities. But Tom Flanagan, the Conservative Party campaign chair, published a piece on WIPO just last week. “Not just those of us on the so-called left” are interested in copyright reform, because copyright can stifle competition and innovation.

  5. Q. Shouldn’t patent law be included in the whole discussion?

    A. Quite right that these are broad issues. (Talks about developing countries and patent medicines.)

  6. Q. Open vs. private databases. “A lot of the blogs are not factual; they are often sometimes a personal vendetta.” How do we compromise between the free Google and “real information” on fee-based databases?

    A. Bloggers have no monopoly on mistakes. (Mentions corrections in the front section of the newspaper.) There’s an enormous amount of stuff out there that comes from experts in their field, often better that from other sources. Much of what has been put online we have paid for (as through government funding), like the text of legislation.

  7. Q. The rule of law is an important part of our culture to make it livable. It seems people have to understand and feel a law to obey it. We haven’t done that for copyright – it seems more complicated and harder for people to internalize.

    A. The Section 92 report proposed adding new sections and then simplifying the whole law. People don’t know just how many rights they do have. It’s essential to educate them about all their rights. Users are creators too.

  8. Q. from writer [John Degen]: I’m excited by all the visions you’ve created. At a party recently, which must have been a really boring party because life-plus-50 came up, people asked about the point of protecting your work once you’re dead. [Because your heirs are not dead and your works are your children.]

    A. In an ideal world, we’d have different terms of copyright for different works. Bill Gates’s MS-DOS will still be copyrighted 75 years after his death. (Describes a Lessig-style reregistration régime.)

  9. Q. Extended licensing?

    A. Educators want a complete blanket exemption. They already have that through fair dealing, but some usages, like classroom display and handouts, might not be fair. Does not quite agree with the “unfortunate” proposal that everything not explicitly licensed for a cost should be free. But the opposite proposal is just as unfortunate, since it assumes payment. Fair use would be a better idea.

  10. Q. Conflict between creator and those who seek to exploit them commercially, who tend to have the upper hand. How to rectify that balance?

    A. True. But many creators say that the conglomerates do not speak for them.


The evening ended at 2107 hours. Somebody recognized me and thanked me for my book. I did not say hello to the often-thronged Michael Geist, given what happened last time. I also did not cheerily inform Sharon Lewis just how much she sucks.

Commemorative booklet

I did, however, buy the perfect-bound pamphlet version of Geist’s lecture for $5 and saw its Note on the Type:

The Bitstream Vera family of fonts is one of the very few complete typefaces released under the open-source General Public License….

In its appearance, Bitstream Vera bears a resemblance to Matthew Carter’s “Georgia,” sharing that font’s simplicity, durability, and versatility.

Where do you begin to list the bullshit here?

  • Open-source fonts are of interest solely in electronic distribution. There is no advantage whatsoever to using an open-source font in a print publication. What could that possibly be? Piracy? You can’t pirate a font from a 10½-point printout. Licensing? Fonts are so cheap now it’s simply a joke to advance that as an excuse. Besides, typefaces cannot be copyrighted in Canada. The copyright aspect of open-source fonts is legally irrelevant in this country.
  • Vera looks nothing like Georgia. It’s a slabserif; Georgia, with its bracketed serifs, is in the Scottish category and has a lineage similar to textbook or newspaper typefaces. (People write entire master’s theses on typeface classification. The two fonts are not in the same group.)
  • Georgia is not “simple”; compare the two fonts’ numerals. (You’re probably looking at the second released version of Georgia’s numerals; that’s how much work went into them.) Vera has a unicameral g, Georgia a bicameral one.
  • Both fonts are under a decade old, so it’s a tad early to describe them as “durable.”
  • Bitstream Vera Serif, the face actually used in the booklet, does not have an italic and is unsuitable for real-world applications.
  • Typeface names are not written in quotation marks.

Really, if you don’t know the first thing about typography, don’t try to pretend.

The design of the book, by Graham F. Scott, looks like a printout of a Microsoft Word document whose oddball automatic indents could not be overridden. (Everything, including nearly all heds and subheds, is indented. And some of those are double-underlined. Klassy.)

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2006.03.31 13:33. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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None. I quit.

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