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Copyright Reflections

 

The following submission,"How to Strengthen Canadian Democracy and Our Cultural Identity," was delivered November 25, 2016 to the federal government in its outreach for public comments on "Canadian Content in a Digital World":

Canada's cultural well-being, and co-creating a stronger democracy, require all of the following: government actions in funding and updating legislation to address the flaws regarding imbedded inequities in digital technologies; the transformation of our institutions, particularly in education, as per restoring respect for copyright; and the willingness of fellow citizens to support proactively cultural production - that means, financially pay the original creators of cultural productions across artistic forms. Forth, journalism, most recently seems to have fallen between the cracks as per the types of literary works that Canada Council will fund in future, at the same time that journalism is in crisis in Canada. The latter is a reality that requires serious, and overdue, attention by government, if we authentically wish to uphold freedom of expression which I witness as under threat for several reasons.

I offer this contribution as a writer, documentary filmmaker, and educator, who worked fulltime through many years as a freelance journalist until, in the mid-1990s, I no longer could pay subsistance level living expenses. That strike upon independent journalists was just the first among a series of attacks upon Canadian journalism as media corporations swallowed up most independent newspapers across Canada - the most aggressive being PostMedia Inc., - after which several waves of staff journalists as well have lost their jobs. Journalism today in Canada is a shadow of its former existence, and that is one of the more insidious causes undermining the health of our democracy. A public who is not well informed - because intelligent awareness requires accessible exposure to a range of points of view - feeds into the demise of democracy and, subsequently, feeds prejudice, the latter, moreover, a global concern.

Digital technology, sadly, feeds into - and, worse, caters to - human nature's lowest common denominator, which is to take the path of least resistance. In other words, in a North American society that systemically reifies individualism - hence undermining communal values that hold humanity together - people will seek out information, based on convenience and whatever will bring comfort, as individuals. Most unfortunate of all, too many people tend to seek out views that fit their own rather than expand their consciousness by reaching out to learn from a range of perspectives.

A further problem, embedded in the increasing use of social media, is the expectation from users that information - the preliminary stage of imparting actual knowledge and deeper insight - must be communicated as briefly as possible to be digested, in turn, as quickly as possible. I suggest that that regressive expectation is a tendency that sorely decreases not just our intelligence yet, moreover, disconnects us from a fuller human awareness about the fundamental ways we are interconnected as a human family and, furthermore, how we are energetically interrelated with all forms of planetary life.

In other words, I consider the progression to date of digital technologies - in regard to how they tend to be used - as an indication of the reductionism of a North American society that has succumbed to a flatland of gross materialism. As true throughout history, the problem resides not within the latest technology embraced enthusiastically but, instead, in how some people will exploit it in self-serving ways that undermine the higher purposes that are preferable, such as forging the inclusiveness of the human family rather than cause divisiveness. More specifically to the well-being of Canadian culture here, updated digital regulations as well as public education, are needed to help achieve more equity in the benefits of the internet for both creators and consumers. As the situation stands, creators are financially exploited mercilessly from digital aggregators to a growing number of consumers/citizens who are being socialized through digital media that everything that exists on the internet is free.

That assumption, as well, regrettably now appears to be embraced by educators who, in recent years have become much more aggressive in refusing to acknowledge copyright and, equally destructive, actively contribute to the misguided thinking among younger generations that they have the right to be given, and have access to, all curriculum resource materials, at no cost. That practice is outrageous! Speaking as a creative professional who may be a senior citizen - yet still is an intellectually active writer on upcoming books based on her life's work - my royalties both as a writer and also as a documentary filmmaker in recent years have been reduced to less than a $100 a year. Meanwhile, I dedicated my entire professional life to social and environmental justice, and continue to do so, through upcoming works that will deserve payment, as well as grassroots efforts as citizen activist concerned about the children yet unborn, fighting against industrial projects that will contaminate our water, if allowed to proceed. Meanwhile, I subsist on a poverty-level pension.

The educational sector - previous to the onset of the digital era through the earlier decades of my lifetime - once was understood as essential to the ability of small and independent investigative writers and documentary filmmakers to be able to have even a partial livelihood.. For even in the earlier decades, such committed "truth tellers" also had to seek out part-time teaching and/or do intermittent hired work for industry or government, to survive. That reality was understood. Nevertheless, our investigative professional work was respected, and more cultural grants existed too, to help us unveil the causes of human and planetary suffering and raise awareness to address injustices. As a student up to, and including, the completion of a doctorate, I understood payment for educational resource materials as a given, and had respect for the knowledge and skills of, for example, writers who produced various forms of written cultural production. Who will produce meaningful, insightful knowledge in the spirit of transforming human consciousness, if the professional creators are no longer paid???

Indeed, for even educators to fight today so egregiously against the copyright of existing creators is incredulous. I implore the federal government (and also provincial ministries of education, and all sectors) to regain an appreciation, and take actions, to turn around this deplorable dilemma. The fact is, not just the creators but also the students and, indeed, our entire society, will pay the price of ignorance, unless the professional creators who produce our stories again can be compensated fairly for their respective cultural productions. My concern is not limited to my generation who have a lot of experience, and at least a wee bit of wisdom, still to offer and much-needed in a troubled world. My concern also embraces the younger generations of struggling, and emerging, creators.

The life of an artist does not have a historic record of ever being easily accomplished, with the exception of a chosen few "celebrities" (using the contemporary vernacular), although even the most famous among history's great artists, in fact, acquired fame through not altogether happy circumstances within their lifetime, and sometimes not until after their earthly life span ended. Every era, and every generation, it appears has to fight for freedom of expression and the right to an artistic livelihood. Only the circumstances, and specifics, change.

I recall my beginning years as a journalist, in the early 1980s, in which freelance writers were fighting Revenue Canada to be recognized as professionals rather than be viewed as hobbyists. Today, once again, after more than 30 years in a national writers' organization, this year I witnessed newer less experienced writers now being reduced to bidding on internet writing gigs - a circumstance which is disgraceful yet which sadly mirrors how the profession of writing, yet again, has been diminished as having value.

Another worrisome trend impacts documentary filmmakers, because increasingly TV broadcasters want to support film stories that will be more guaranteed to get audience ratings and to attract advertisers, in a media world that has its priorities focused first and foremost on profits. This circumstance similarly mirrors what I refer to as a flatland of materialism that has displaced our moral radar to focus on the larger good. The ethos of documentary storytelling, similar to the ethos of any authentic, investigative storytelling in any artistic medium, has a calling higher than to be reduced to mere entertainment and to ensure profits, the latter usually for everyone except the original creators of the stories.

Earlier, when I identified my interwoven professions as writer, documentary filmmaker and educator - aside from occasional part-time teaching - my foremost contribution in previous years was doing conference workshops around North America as a `media educator,' to awaken people why, how, and for whom all forms of media construct reality from contemporary news and popular culture to written histories and, ultimately, all forms of cultural production through time. Always, first and foremost a storyteller - refusing and rejecting the reductionist term `content provider' - who continues to tell stories in the hope and aspiration to transform consciousness.

In closing, one concern about future Canada Council funding is to raise the question, how do you define "risk-taking from creators" as stated in your Principle #3? I sincerely hope that you intend that it means more than technological experimentation but, more importantly, it is directed to supporting artistic truth tellers who take risks to challenge the status quo in the spirit of supporting the larger good of who we can be, together.

The following letter of intervention on Bill C-11, Copyright Modernization Act, was prepared Nov. 21, 2011 and e-mailed to the 12 parliamentary members on the Bill C-11 committee:

Dear Members of Canadian Parliamentary Bill C-11 Legislative Committee,

As a professional creator for 30 years, both freelance writer and documentary filmmaker, I urge you to make changes to the current wording of Bill C-11, specifically related to the extension of fair dealing to include education. In Section 29, please remove the addition of "education" in its opening sentence that reads: "Fair dealing for the purpose of research, private study, education, parody or satire does not infringe copyright." Also adapt all subsequent passages under Section 29 that relate to the added exemption for educational institutions, as well as adapting further sections that privilege the exemption addition.

Otherwise, the inclusion of fair dealing exemptions to educational institutions will do serious damage to Canada's cultural industries and their contributions to our nation's digital economy. The damage, more specifically, will be unfair and unjust, definitely undermine, and even terminate for some, the livelihoods of experienced, knowledgeable professional creators as well as younger, emerging creators. The demands of educators add insult to injury for the reason that cultural industries were impacted negatively by the severe arts cuts in 2008, causing many professional creators to redirect their skills into other types of work, if they could find work at all since the economic downturn. The news media failed to inform the wider public of the actual damage done to the cultural sector, and the human toll on creators whose small businesses have disappeared.

The lack of respect towards professional creators by educational organizations and ministries who lobbied for this exemption is outrageous and unconscionable. But, sadly, I suggest that such gross disrespect mirrors the wider lack of awareness and appreciation about the significant, multi-faceted roles of the arts in our society, as the arts have demonstrated in all societies throughout history. That significance is too lengthy to outline in this document.

Our society's lack of appreciation, regardless, tragically overlooks the sacrifices made by those creators who seek to use their mastery to bring beauty into our lives, while others choose to seek and impart truth - their works, ultimately, speaking to the essence of how we can grow more fully into our human potential, why we are here on Earth, and who we can be as a nation among nations to model what democracy and freedom of expression authentically signify in our daily lives.

For such creators apply creative intelligence to communicate stories and craft images that provoke awareness and inspire us all to be engaged in creating a better quality of life, a quality of life that is inclusive of the whole human family and that is directed to healing an imperilled planetary environment. These creator voices speak from the breadth and diversity of our Canadian mosaic, to illuminate who we are to each other and to the larger world, from Canadian perspectives where the tar hits the road, in regard to stories about our history and in pursuit of examining contemporary life incisively - stories to facilitate our choices in how we walk into the future, equipped with more knowledge and wisdom to be proactive participants in contributing to a more just and peaceful world on a healthier planet.

The mainstream news media, meanwhile, too often misrepresents the arts to the wider public in news that foregrounds dramatic conflict, such as bringing attention to the more extreme controversial examples of art forms created by taxpayer dollars or, conversely, distorting the fuller reality of art production, and justifying piracy, by focusing on the greed of large movie studios and record labels. Occasionally, our celebrity creators receive attention, and thank goodness our famous, and highly successful, creators in all artistic fields do get recognition. But, what the popular, celebrity-driven media overlooks is the body of creative work by the larger numbers of our lesser known yet talented and dedicated creators, whose works are enjoyed by the Canadian public, and also desired and used by educators. These lesser known creators are the large majority, however, who live mostly on a subsistence income sustained through educational revenues.

Critical for you to understand - and hopefully someday more educators to appreciate - is this fact, that the educational market is what sustains this larger number of creators, to continue at all in the production of knowledge that is sorely needed for students to enter the larger world of business and vocation and human interactions globally. I know this fact, both as a creator, a media literacy educator, a filmmaker and also as a (former fulltime) freelance journalist. Indeed, I worked diligently for many years as an independent journalist, until the merging of media corporations followed by digital technologies severely diminished that livelihood, similar to the fate of hundreds of freelancers, when we no longer could syndicate our work, to generate reasonable revenues and thereby justify the long periods of intensive research to produce informed writing. How many more voices of professional storytellers further will be silenced because educators want access to our creative work without payment and without permission? This disregard for the professions of creators, moreover, signals to the younger generations that such professions have no worth, and encourages piracy in the digital world.

I speak for the creators, both writers and filmmakers, of well-researched and well-crafted stories, produced with high standards, aesthetically and morally, with the intention to enlighten and educate rather than merely to entertain. The extension of fair dealing for educational institutions, simply stated, threatens freedom of expression for such professionals and, in turn, renders more vulnerable the democratic wellbeing of our society.

Do you not witness in recent years the dumbing down of society? Just look at programme choices on television broadcast channels, which have sorely reduced windows for documentary films and, instead, have increased time slots for reality TV programming and similar entertainments. Are you aware of the disappearance of most funding even to develop documentary films in Canada? Worse, broadcasters now demand that the chosen and desirable independent documentaries must be entertaining foremost, and also be film stories that can generate profits - primarily to benefit the broadcaster.

But Canada, once upon a time, gained international renown for its documentaries, whose creation never was about earning profits, but instead telling stories to challenge injustices (and sometimes influence the making of justice), to inform us of the marvellous strength of the human spirit in the face of adversity and, ultimately, to illuminate what we hold in common as a human family on this planet. What will be the impact on a democratic society if freedom of expression is undermined by making it virtually impossible to earn revenue for those storytellers whose intention is truth telling rather than appealing to commercial interests?

What the passing of Bill C-11 signifies in its current misguided form, as per the proposed extended rights of use for educators, is: (1) reducing the ability to earn a living for many creators, both established and younger generations; (2) undermining the digital economy of Canada by silencing many experienced creators, many of whom have degrees in higher education, who could be mentors to emerging creators; (3) threatening the future production of diverse cultural forms of the latest knowledge used as educational materials to expand and deepen the minds of learners; and (4) destroying the royalties and reprint fees, and educational sales of books, other forms of writing and independent films that creators rely upon in order to sustain cultural production and, as well, count upon as necessary compensation in later life. For, sadly, many veteran creators systemically have been underpaid throughout their careers or vocations. As a result, their pensions cannot cover even the most basic living expenses, so that they depend upon the modest continuing revenues through uses of their work in education - revenues that they totally deserve.

The fact that a different scenario could happen at all among those creators who dedicated their lives to helping humanity is shameful for a nation state such as Canada that likes to present itself to the world as a culturally sophisticated, democratic society that projects a high standard of civilization. That brings me to: (5), namely the diminishment of freedom of expression, if and when creators, obstructed from receiving income from educational uses, are silenced, no longer able to operate a viable business - yes, the arts are businesses whose earnings and expenses are totally accountable to government, hence, to taxpayers. We are absolutely not free-loaders, as a misinformed public sometimes labels us. Rather, we are hard-working professionals, many of whom have been reduced to sustaining a bare-bones business, while we persevere to apply our creativity in developing new business models suitable for the digital economy. Educational revenues, nevertheless, are essential for us to be able to continue contributing to the larger good through cultural productions.

Thank you for your valuable time in reading, and reflecting upon, my letter. May each of you find the resolve to make the wisest decision that can benefit and include all Canadians, today and tomorrow.

Warm regards, Sandy Greer, Ph.D

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