Deconstructing “The Telecom Trotskyites” – Part 2 of 2

After my short intro in part 1, here is part 2 as promised. This blog entry is my critique of the The Telecom Trotskyites by Terence Corcoran, editor of the Financial Post.

Note: Not to distort Mr. Corcoran, I will be quoting him directly. For example, I will quote and reference Mr. Corcoran using this format — p3.1 (paragraph 3, sentence 1) “If the iTune you download can only be used on your iPod, that’s an assault on your rights.

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Introduction

Mr. Terence Corcoran’s Dec 20th, 2007 column The Telecom Trotskyites seriously mischaracterizes and distorts the deep worries of concerned Canadians across the country who are brave enough to disagree with the government of Canada and the rich and powerful influence groups that the Harper government has seen fit to consult with (e.g CEOs of multi-national companies, Music industry group in the US like the RIAA, and US Ambassador).

Critique of “The Telecom Trotskyites”

1) Corcoran’s use of loaded-labels like “Telecom Trotskyites”

Corcoran’s use of labels like “Telecom Trotskyites” may have the eye-catching effect initially, but it severely reduced his creditability and ability to focus on the discussion of important disagreements about copyright law in Canada.

What if I or someone starts calling Mr. Corcoran and other supporters of the to-be-tabled Copyright bill (e.g the CEOs, lobbies groups, US Ambassador) “Copyright Mafiya“? Will labeling them Mafiya” helps the discussion? I doubt it. The eye-catching term of “Mafiya” may draws momentary attentions, but in the long run, it will distract from my main arguments and points and may even hurt my creditability as a serious professional writer.

(An explanation on “Copyright Mafiya“. Mafiya is Russian organized criminals who, as a result of the fall of Soviet Union and rise of extreme Free Market, became rich and powerful. “Copyright Mafiya” may be taken to mean those organizations that are extremely powerful and rich as a result of existing or future Copyright laws.)

As an educated and experience man, I am sure Mr. Corcoran have many strong arguments and points to use in this debate. Unfortunately, as a newspaper man, instead of using more grounded reasonings, Mr. Corcoran chose to draw attention to his column by using cheap tactics like creating a new label to attack people he disagree with.

2) p2.3 (paragarph 2, sentence 3) “Anything that stands in the way of almost total telecom freedom, that prevents the movement and transfer of information at near-zero cost to and from consumers, must be overthrown as anti-democratic and suppressive.

It is disappointing to see Corcoran puts up a straw man and claim that as what concerned Canadians across the country want. Concerned Canadians wish to be heard by our elected government. Is there anything wrong with it?

Again, the rich and powerful in the US have been fully consulted. It would be nice if concerned Canadians can be accorded the same privileges as well. After all, last time I checked, Canadians elect the politicians in Ottawa, and the US Ambassador don’t quite get to vote in Canadian federal elections.

3) p3.1 (paragraph 3, sentence 1) “If the iTune you download can only be used on your iPod, that’s an assault on your rights.

Now, lets try this thought experience. If the new car you bought (a property you own) can **only** be driven in the province or the state that you live at the moment where you first bought the car, how will you feel? Will you feel that you have been cheated? Since you own the car, you would thought you should be allowed to drive it anywhere you like.

Now Corcoran failed to see the above simple parallel in the basic idea of property rights and ownership. Of course, I am simplifying, but Corcoran failed to even discuss the existence of this basic principle.

(Dec 24th update: Again using the car example. We have GPS technologies that can track where you drive your car now. Does it mean you should be tracked and charged by the car manufactures when you drive your car outside of the place you first bough your car? You see, if you think deeper, the recording industry had found the “technologies” to charge us if we use our “songs” outside of the “music player” where we first bought our songs to play in. The music player is like the province or state where we first bought our songs. Should we be restricted by that and pay double, triple, etc. every time we move to a new “province/state” (i.e. a new music player)? )

4) p3.2 (paragraph 3, sentence 2) “If you can’t resend that movie you just got off the Internet to a dozen friends, your rights are being trampled on.

Here Corcoran gave an unfair general characterization of the group of concerned Canadians based on the actions of a few. Corcoran should have known better than generalizing like this.

5) p3.3 & p3.4 (paragraph 3, sentences 3 & 4) “If you want to incorporate part of a television show into your work of art or whatever, you should not have to bother with copyright issues. In this view, just about all corporate attempts to limit use of material, backed by copyright law, are viewed as fundamentally opposed to “basic consumer rights.”

On top of being a management consultant (in business and tech), I am also a blogger as well as a film and video producer that has produced one feature-length and NFB funded documentary and over 200 videos (see samples here). So I do look at the copyright of my works (blog and videos, etc.) very carefully. Copyright issues deeply concern me both as a content creator and as a user. Therefore it is unfair for Corcoran to accuse Canadians to not “… bother with copyright issues.” We care enough about these issues to raise our concerns. Whether the Canadian government listen to us is a different matter.

Now, copyright law has been used in the US to restrict free speech (see the case of world renown director Brian De Palma’s free speech right being taken away because of muddy “fair use” in US Copyright law (watch videos and heated debate here)). Should we let our free speech right be restricted as an unintended consequence of Copyright law?

One of the things we need and are asking for is a general, expanded, and updated (for all things digital) set of “fair dealing” provisions to allow Canadians freedom to use digital copyrighted material fairly and legally. When Brain’s film Redacted was screened unredacted in Canada but have to be redacted in the US (pictures of real war photos in Iraq), it shows how much less freedom the US has at the moment as a result of their laws.

Shall we ignore the lessons learned in the US and fall in the same trap? Or shall we learn from the US failures and produce a better piece of legislation? Watch Bruce Lehman, one of the Architect of US DMCA, reflects on the failures of DMCA.

6) p4.2 (paragraph 4, sentence 2) “New technologies, they claim, have created a collective commons that must be wrested from corporate control and turned over to the people.

Corcoran is confused here. It is not “new technologies” that have created a “collective commons“. It is Canadians and people around the world that have created a “Creative Commons” movement where each of us, individually, decide to share the fruits of our creative hard work and put them into the virtual creative commons for others to use (under a manner we specified in our Creative Commons (CC) license). (examples of CC Flickr photos, Music, etc.)

Take myself for example, 99% of my work since I started blogging in July 2007 have been put under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Canada License (note: the licenses have been designed to be easy to read and understood by people, and it also has a much longer lawyer/legal version to cover all the bases as well).

7) p5.1 to p5.4 (paragraph 5, sentences 1 – 4) “Another fave topic for these laptop revolutionaries is “net neutrality.” The basic objective here is to turn the Internet and broadband into a wide-open system to which all users, no matter what their business or personal interests, should have more or less open access. No telecom giant should allowed to charge more for some users than others. The telecom companies may own the system, but it belongs to the consumers who use it.

Although Corcoran seemed to grasp the high level details of “net neutrality” but he has also missed some key points in “net neutrality“. I am no expert in “net neutrality” but I personally put a lot of weight in the expert views of my blog friend Tom Evslin (Tom and I emailed a few times. Quoting Tom’s bio, “Evslin conceived, launched, and ran AT&T’s first ISP, AT&T WorldNet Service. WorldNet popularized all-you-can-eat flatrate monthly pricing for Internet access and forced the rest of the industry, including AOL and MSN, to follow suit. Evslin has been blamed and praised for this ever since. He is unrepentant.“).

I highly recommend Corcoran to read a few entries from Tom’s blog entries tagged with “Net Neutrality” first to familarize himself with some basic issues to educate himself before making any generalizing claims.

8) p6.4 (paragraph 6, sentence 4) “Mr. Geist is also a tireless warrior fighting for Ottawa to bring in some form of net-neutrality regulation or law that would strip telecom firms of their right to operate their business as a business.

I am surprised that Corcoran seemed to be unfamiliar with the concept of “federally regulated industries” (e.g. Banks, telecommunications carriers, airlines, etc.). Since these industries hold extraordinary powers over the public/customers, therefore, under the laws of Canada, we have regulations governing their business behaviours. So regulations are just part of the constrains where these businesses operates under, nothing new.

9) p8.1 (paragraph 8, sentence 1) “Changes to Canada’s copyright law have been sought for years by artists, performers and corporations who have seen their rights ignored as technology swept ahead of existing laws.

I would like to add that some Canadians across the country have also been asking for updates (not just artists, performes, etc.) to the Copyright law to reflect the changes in technologies for just as long. We want to make sure that we won’t be all become criminals under the new Copyright law simply because we use our new TiVos to record TV shows to watch later (i.e. time shifting).

10) p8.2 (paragraph 8, sentence 2) “Canada has also agreed to international copyright agreements, but has not yet implemented them.

My understanding of the WIPO copyright agreement is that it has very wide implementation flexibility. So we are definitely not locked into the flawed US DMCA model.

11) p9.1 (paragraph 9, sentence 1) “In pop-Trotskyite form, opponents of copyright reform — or at least of the reform they think Mr. Prentice was planning — staged a demonstration at Mr. Prentice’s riding office in Calgary.

As the organizer of the event to meet Minister Prentice in Calgary to ask him a few questions about the Copyright bill, I resented being labeled and referred to as “In pop-Trotskyite form“.

The people gathered that day were simply a group of concerned Canadians gathered at Minister Prentice’s office to ask him questions and present to him hundreds of questions from concerned Canadians across the land. Nothing more. Nothing less.

I am asking Mr. Corcoran to retract his inaccurate and somewhat insulting label and apologize to me and the other concerned Canadians immediately.

If Mr. Corcoran is incapable of presenting a well-reasoned argument on copyright law based on straight facts instead of simply name-calling or labeling, then I suggest Mr. Corcoran to write on a topic that he may be more competent in writing.

12) p9.3 (paragraph 9, sentence 3) “Mr. Geist led with the traditional anthem of the Canadian left, saying the Prentice law was “largely a sell-out to U.S. interests.”

Again, when many U.S. interests have been fully consulted while average Canadians have been completely ignored, how can Mr. Corcoran, in all fairness, simply declare the concerned Canadians as “Canadian left”?

(Dec 24th Update: I view Prof. Michael Geist as a guiding light and a great source of insights in Copyright law in Canada. If Mr. Corcoran (or the Canadian government) is trying to mislead the public and turn this Copyright debate to the sole concern of Dr. Geist, then I am afraid Mr. Corcoran (or the Canadian government) has seriously underestimated Canadians’ realization that it is a problem that we are all concerned of. No just Dr. Geist alone.)

13) p10.4 (paragraph 10, sentence 4) “It’s not a good omen from a Minister who has already demonstrated a willingness to cave in to populist pressure, or at least push policy change that can be sold as good for consumers, regardless of the cost or basic principles.

How interesting the use of words “… cave in to populist pressure“. But should a wide-spread demand from Canadians of all ages from sea to sea be considered “cave in to populist pressure” or simply “listening to public opinions/demands“? I am not wise enough, may be my fellow Canadians can tell me.

It is charming to read Mr. Corcoran talking about “regardless of … basic principles” here when he has been so willingly to base his arguments on mischaracterized generalizations, name-callings and labelings.

14) p12 (paragraph 12) “On the day the copyright law was to be tabled, Prime Minister Stephen Harper led a media conference to announce a new controversial policy stance: It favours toy safety. No legislation was ready, there was nothing to say, really, but he promised legislation in the future.

I guess I can now say Mr. Corcoran and I at least agree on one thing. We both agree the government’s posture on toy safety, may be good TV, but is not sufficient and more work needs to be done.
15) p13.2 (paragraph 13, sentence 2) “Might be just a coincidence, although it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the Telecom Trotskyites have scored another victory for the left over a Conservative government that is too scared and nervous to do the right thing.

Corcoran, at least in the article under analysis, has been so willingly and ready to blame everything on “the left” that he ended up with an essay that is deeply flawed. Truth be told, there are some very valid concerns by big and small businesses. But until the day these serious facts and well-grounded reasonings are given a chance in a discussion, we as a society will not progress as best as we could.

Personal Note

On a personal note, I have been doing a few “firsts” lately. And this is the first time that I critique an essay by an editor of a national newspaper. You may wonder what kind formal training do I have in doing this? None. Zero! But what separate me from Mr. Corcoran, in my humble opinion, is my willingness to ground my arguments in reasons as oppose to name calling, labeling, and blaming things on “the left”.

I think I would look like an idiot if I based my arguments using short hands like “the right” or “free market” as if they meant something by themselves. I guess I have learned important lessons from the likes of Milton Friedman and Ronald Coase to try to ground my reasonings to a respectable level.

Now, in part 1 of this series, I claimed

… it is my full intention to steal and emulate some of her [Anna J. Schwartz] rigour and intensity when she co-authored the NBER working paper formally providing a rejoinder to Paul Krugman’s essay “Who Was Milton Friedman?“.

I am proud to say that I may have succeeded on some level as I felt I added some grounded reasonings into this important discussion. I guess I was lucky because Mr. Corcoran’s argument was weaker than I thought and I didn’t need to be much more informed than I am.

I hope others will add to this important debate and discussion in a grounded manner without all the name calling. And I look forward to your comments and feedback. I don’t learn much from what I did right but I can and will try my best to learn from what I did wrong. Thanks for reading.

8 Responses to Deconstructing “The Telecom Trotskyites” – Part 2 of 2

  1. Deb Johnson says:

    Yes, even myself without a university degree, nor much technogical expertise, knew the article in question to be deeply flawed. I’ve heard and read enough to be informed, and worried. thank you for helping shed some light on where that article was so wrong. I’ve also asked that the Musician’s Coaliation do a FAQ to explain why they are against an American style Digital Millennium Copyright Act for Canada. Why also, the fans should be against it, and why in fact, even the music executives themselves are against it. The better we can inform the “average Joe, and Jill” out there as to “WHY” they should care, the better it is. Not just preaching to the converted, but preaching, and teaching the masses. :)

    Merry Christmas!

  2. kempton says:

    Hi Deb,

    You are right one. The more the “average Joe, and Jill” out there are informed, the better the various issues are going to be covered and debated. Because, sooner or later, the politicians are going to realize that their voters know a lot about these issues.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours.

    Regards,
    Kempton

  3. Hi Kempton,

    I really like your post. Very articulate and well thought out. The iTunes argument from Terry is a Red Herring and in my opinion it should be dismissed as it it not pertinent to the debate, and I am not sure your car/province analogy is appropriate. Although YOU and I may wish to have the right to play your iTunes purchased music on other music devices, people who buy songs on iTunes are buying the rights to those songs as laid out in the iTunes purchasing agreement which includes the device restriction (iTunes on Mac/PC or iTunes). If we do not like those restrictions then we should not buy from iTunes.

    Placing your music on iTunes with those restrictions is a private copyright holder’s choice. However, the government legislating that ALL content published should by DEFAULT be under the same or similar license while not addressing the need for flexible fair use, time shifting, format shifting, and parody is where the problem is I believe.

  4. kempton says:

    Hi David,

    I see your point of the iTune “purchasing agreement”. Of course, I am sure you are also aware that all foreign and domestic corporations operating in Canada have to abide by Canadian laws. Their contracts and agreements cannot override our laws.

    Now the fun part here is, we ARE trying to help our government redefine those laws. The laws are not unchangeable.

    We can and should establish some common share set of believes to define what our own laws should be. Laws that define who we are.

    “flexible fair use, time shifting, format shifting, and parody” are all important challenges that we can and should solve.

    Best Regards,
    Kempton

  5. Taz says:

    You omitted the most astonishing line from Corcoran’s screed:
    “Industry Canada’s recent wireless-spectrum auction regime, which involves a form of nationalization of telephone-cable assets, has its roots in the idea that the people rule.”

    The man wants a corporate dictatorship. Let the people rule? Pshaw! Democracy is sooo 20th Century.

  6. kempton says:

    Hi Taz,

    Thanks for your feedback.

    I didn’t comment on Mr. Corcoran’s statement of “Industry Canada’s recent wireless-spectrum auction …” because I don’t have the knowledge nor the time to do a proper research to figure out the issues for myself.

    If I had commented on the statement without grounded understanding, then I am no better than Mr. Corcoran.

    Best Regards,
    Kempton

  7. Taz says:

    To be fair, my concern with the statement was not with the auction of wireless spectrum, but rather the words “…has its roots in the idea that the people rule”, which he writes with seeming contempt.

    It has long been my view that Canada was a democracy, the definition of which is “government by the people”…the people rule.

    In Corcoran’s world, “the idea that the people rule” is a bad thing.

  8. kempton says:

    Hey Taz,

    I see your point and concern re: the words “…has its roots in the idea that the people rule”.

    Unfortunately for me, Mr. Corcoran wrote the sentence the way he did, which combined the three components together. Since I am not willing to give a sloppy argument like Mr. Corcoran, I was left with the opinion of not commenting.

    Regards,
    Kempton

    P.S. Taz, I am going to throw a curve ball at you now. I believe in constitutional supremacy (the supremacy of our Charter of Rights) over and above our parliamentary supremacy (politicians elected by the people). I believe in our courts. And if the courts “failed”, the politicians can always use section 33. But they better use it VERY CAREFULLY as all eyes will be on them.

    P.P.S. In one of my earliest entry (click to read more), I touched on section 33, the notwithstanding clause (click to read more) in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom.

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