The Professional Writers Association of Canada (formerly the Periodical Writers Association of Canada) represents professional freelance writers working in Canada's magazine, newspaper, corporate writing, government writing and book publishing industries. For more information about PWAC, including how to join, please visit To find a Canadian writer, please visit

Thursday, December 07, 2006

access AND respect

Interesting contribution to the copyright reform discussion from DOC, the Canadian documentary filmmakers association, who are understandably struggling with the issue of rights clearance for incidental copyright usage in documentary films. DOC has published a white paper on the subject at their website. The white paper launch has generated some notice in the press and, somewhat predicatably, praise from user rights advocates, notably on Michael Geist's blog.

As creators who also depend on the use of copyright-protected material in our research and in our published work, writers sympathize with the dilemma facing doc-makers, and we support their struggle. There are many stories out there of writers warned off of specific passages in an article or book by lawyers and/or insurers nervous about the line of infringement under fair dealing. Access and affordable usage licensing are crucial issues for all creators and professional "users" of copyright-protected material, and we agree with the general conclusion of Howard Knopf's white paper, which states (emphasis ours):

There are relatively modest and achievable steps that can be taken in terms of legislation that would greatly improve the climate for documentarians in Canada. Even more immediately achievable would be a campaign to educate lawyers and insurers involved in the clearance system in order that excess caution not result in effective censorship and the end of innovation.

That said, we tend to agree with the Creators' Copyright Coalition's Chris Moore, who questions whether the issues detailed by DOC are appropriately dealt with as "copyright" concerns. Chris Moore's analysis appears on the CCC website, and in it he states:

Too often, the problem is not copyright at all. It’s what Knopf politely calls “risk aversion” by lawyers and insurers that obliges filmmakers into messy and costly searches for clearances in many of these situations.

...what we all need, is a culture of “access and rights.” When the operation of copyright in itself prevents access, clearly we have market failure, for rightsholders have an interest in encouraging, not preventing, access to their work. What is required is a market that can develop reasonable prices and convenient access.

In any copyright reform solution to this very real and very damaging problem for documentarians, Canada must make sure we do not concentrate only on the access issues at the expense of legitimate rightsholders. After all, documentary makers are themselves rightsholders interested in advancing their art and careers within a marketplace.

Sidenote: DOC and PWAC are both housed in the same cooperative office environment at Toronto's Centre for Social Innovation. Solidarity!



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