The Writers’ Union of Canada, with fewer than 2,000 members as of four years ago, pulls a John Degen and launches its own bill of rights for writers (“for the digital age”).

  • Copyright legislation shall ensure the protection of intellectual property and appropriate compensation for rightsholders.

    Copyright is not about protection and money. Copyright enshrines a balance of interests in law, an interpretation upheld by the Supreme Court. “Protection of intellectual property” can only mean “prevention of duplication,” a prohibition never enabled by copyright law and an impossibility “for the digital age.”

    Copyright law is not a mechanism to guarantee that people you like, such as dues-paying members, get paid.

  • Exceptions to copyright shall be minimized.

    They already are minimal and every dues-paying member of the Writers’ Union relies on them just to function. Embedded in this claimed “right” is a Degen-like ideology that every copyright exception is infringement in another guise and costs “rightsholders” money.

  • The author shall retain all electronic rights not specifically granted to the publisher or producer and shall have approval of any modifications made to the work.

    The first statement is a reiteration of fact: Authors already do retain rights not otherwise granted. (Hence the next statement in the bill of rights is also a reiteration of fact: “The publisher shall not exercise or sublicense E-book publishing rights without the express authorization of the author.” To do so would be copyright infringement. How is that not obvious?)

    The second statement is a weak encapsulation of the core of Canadian copyright, the moral right, which I see not even a soi-disant writers’ union can be bothered to defend.

  • E-book retailers shall require the rightsholder’s permission for any free preview or download of an electronic work, and the rightsholder shall specify the maximum amount to be made available.

    No, copyright law makes previews (for “research”) legal as of right. It is true that a case that expanded such previews is up for consideration by the Supreme Court, but the fact remains that the fair-dealing provisions of the Copyright Act allow excerpting for research, criticism, and review. The excerpt doesn’t have to be created by the person doing any of those things.

    It is well established that not only is there no clear percentage limit to an excerpt in order to be considered fair (copying 100% of the work can sometimes be fair dealing), there is no legal mechanism for prior restraint of such excerpting.

  • Agents, publishers, aggregators, retailers, and libraries shall ensure that works in digital form will be well protected and will not be shared, traded, or sold outside the boundaries authorized by the contract.

    People can “share” books if they want. It’s called lending, and it’s legal. You as a third party may have a contract with a publisher (a fourth party), but none of those things is the business of, say, a library or an “aggregator,” whatever that is.

I ran these remarks by Kelly Duffin, executive director of the Writers’ Union, and received, first, a vacation autoresponder and then nothing.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2011.11.04 14:19. 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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