The Shotgun Blog
Monday, September 14, 2009
TVO's Jesse Brown: "All publicly funded content should be in the public domain"
Jesse Brown, host of TVO's Search Engine podcast has a guest post up at Boing Boing. In it he makes an "unpopular" case:
A few years ago I hosted a mini-series for CBC Radio called The Contrarians, a show about "unpopular ideas that just might be right". Each week I'd take a controversial opinion and try it on for size. Sometimes the show was serious, sometimes it was silly- I rarely agreed with the positions I took, but operated on the principle that no idea is so radical or offensive that we should be forbidden to contemplate it (if only to learn why we should discard it). The CBC brass was incredibly supportive of the project and I was given license to explore a lot of unorthodox subject matter. Topics included:
- Multiculturalism doesn't work (we just eat each other's sandwiches).
- Feminism isn't dead, it's just finished (take a bow, ladies- you won!).
- It's a myth- Canadians aren't funny.
- Copyright should be abolished.
I'd love to link to these shows now, but I can't. They were never posted online or offered as podcasts. I tried posting them on my personal website, and was instructed to take them down by CBC management. I was told I was violating their copyright. Every now and then I'll get an email from a teacher or listener requesting an episode of The Contrarians, and I have to explain that I'd be breaking the law to send one.
Let's put aside my personal frustration at having my work locked away. The real question here is, since CBC content is funded by the public, shouldn't the public own it? Or at least have access to it? Actually, the CBC archives are just the tip of the iceberg: the overwhelming majority of stuff made for Canadians with Canadians' money is inaccessible to Canadians.
In Canada, movies are supported by Telefilm, TV by the Canadian Television Fund, books and art by The Canada Council for the Arts, and so on. But most of this stuff isn't distributed very well or for very long, and you can only get your hands on a fraction of it.
So I want to put forth one more contrarian position: I think that any publicly funded content should (within, say, 5 years of its creation) be released to the public domain.
Sounds logical to me. Of course, I'm not convinced that ideas are property that can be owned nor that the government should be even funding media and the arts, but crown copyrights limiting our access to content provided supposedly "for our own good" through money taken from us through coercive taxes--that's just downright silly. The beneficiaries are certainly not the consumers or taxpayers, and the normal argument that copyrights are necessary to incentivise content creation doesn't apply here as in the private sector.
Not sure about that Kalim. I agree with you that the government should not be funding broadcasting, but this is different.
As a professional investor, I can't imagine any company simply giving me access to their dataroom because I am a shareholder. I also highly doubt if Disney shareholders get to have that kind of access simply because they are part owners.
Posted by: Charles | 2009-09-14 2:49:43 PM
"The real question here is, since CBC content is funded by the public, shouldn't the public own it?"
The public does own it. We, as a group (through our chosen leaders), supervise the methods and limitations on distribution. That includes not letting any individual, even those who helped make the shows, distribute it as they want. That is the rule that the public has set.
If I own shares of Coca-Cola, that does not give me the right to walk into any Coke factory and drink a can anytime I want to. I also cannot expect that if I call up Coke headquarters that they should be required to tell me the formula for making Coke. We, the shareholders (through our chosen leaders), supervise the methods and limitations on distribution
Being one of the co-owners is not the same as being the guy who gets to call the shots. If the majority of co-owners, expressing their will through a shareholders meeting / election want to change the rules, they will change. This is the fundamental mistake in Brown's logic.
Posted by: Fact Check | 2009-09-14 5:05:49 PM
Public sidewalks, public parks, public libraries should be closed to the public?
I don't think government-funded stuff should be private property.
As someone who believes we own our creations I will say the above. Government should not have copyrights for itself.
Now if a government agency says I can have a $10,000 subsidy to film a $100,000 television program in Canada, does that mean the taxpayers own 10% of the program?
No, I wouldn't think so. I don't think government should be giving subsidies but if its a tenth of the budget its hardly "owned" by the public.
I hope I made by position clear. =o)
Posted by: GeronL | 2009-09-14 8:48:47 PM
Geron that's not the point. As a shareholder of a company I have access to a lot of information, but no everything. Of course people should have access to roads and parks (that's the point of having them). Should they also have access to the hydroelectric power station or the local army base?
Posted by: Charles | 2009-09-15 5:22:00 AM
"If I own shares of Coca-Cola, that does not give me the right to walk into any Coke factory and drink a can anytime I want to. I also cannot expect that if I call up Coke headquarters that they should be required to tell me the formula for making Coke."
"I also highly doubt if Disney shareholders get to have that kind of access simply because they are part owners."
Congratulations Charles, F.C.: you both win the straw man argument of the year award. The entire concept of public ownership in the business sense, and in the government sense are not the same. You as a shareholder, understand that when you buy a stake in a company your influence in that company's affairs is outlined beforehand. Taxes are different, I do not "Buy" a share of Canada when you or I pay them (taxes). Go back and actually read the article, it concerns ACCESS to media which should for all intents and purposes be public domain in Canada.
Posted by: Cid the Cidious | 2009-09-15 1:49:29 PM
"The entire concept of public ownership in the business sense, and in the government sense are not the same."
Why? Just because you say so? You beg the question by providing no argument for this claim. In the absence of an argument that they are different, I see no reason to believe there is one.
"You as a shareholder, understand that when you buy a stake in a company your influence in that company's affairs is outlined beforehand. Taxes are different, I do not 'Buy' a share of Canada when you or I pay them (taxes)."
All you have shown here is that one becomes a part owner of Coca-Cola in a different manner than one becomes a part owner of the CBC. You have not given any argument that the way one becomes a part owner has anything at all to do with whether, as a part owner, you can do what you want with the company's assets. Again, you just beg the question.
By the way, there is a way I can become a part owner of Coca-Cola that is entirely involuntary. If I inherit Coke shares, I become a part owner without choosing to be one. If that inheritance comes to me when I am still an infant, I have no choice of renouncing that ownership - It's mine whether I like it or not. Hmmm ... that sounds familiar ... in fact it sounds just like how I gain a part ownership in everything that is public property by being born a citizen here. In fact, that's exactly how I became a part owner of the CBC. So it looks like you can come to be an owner of private property the same way you become an owner of public property. So much the worse for your (non) argument.
Posted by: Fact Check | 2009-09-15 2:32:07 PM
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