Astroturf: promoting Bill C-32

AstroTurf: Since 1965 -  logo
Astroturf is a kind of simulated grass that was invented to cover sports playing fields. Particularly in the spring rainy season. Astroturf’s synthetic grass surface is desirable because it is better to play football on than mud.

Lately I’ve learned that “astroturf” has also come to mean a simulated grassroots movement.

grass

In today’s world, grassroots movements have become increasingly important because the Internet allows communities to spontaneously unite far more quickly and effectively than ever before. Now that the news media is online many online articles provide ordinary people an opportunity to comment on the news. Quite often you’ll find trolls or shills talking against the natural flow.

Some trolls are just in it for the fun of wreaking havoc… in exactly the same way some children behave badly because bad attention is better than no attention. But an increasing number of Trolls seem to be shills.

When a corporation or a government (or both) is doing something that they know will be bad for people, they try to deflect or derail public outcry by contracting shills. These paid lobbyists masquerade as disinterested parties in order to promote their master’s agenda through the simulation of community support.

On CBC Usage Based Billing article comments I’ve often noticed people claiming to be ordinary consumers arguing Canadian Internet costs should be doubled. Reasonable assumption: not just a troll, but a shill.

dandilion in the grass

The Internet gives citizens a voice.

In this day and age the Internet has brought down the physical barriers to both organizing and advocacy.

Today we can blog about bad stuff.

Or create a website to push for change.

When laws detrimental to us are tabled, in today’s world citizens can TWEET our displeasure.

And organize on a Facebook page.

One of the reasons real grassroots movements can be so powerful is that they are made up of people who believe in something. They may not have much money but they have commitment and passion.

Powerful corporate interests try to drown us out the way they have always drowned us out: with money.

They have to pay for astroturf. Being a shill must be a growth Industry with the armies of shills repeating misinformation. They try to convince us that an agenda which benefits them at our expense is a good thing. Left unchallenged repeated misinformation can very easily come to be accepted as fact.

Call it spin, doublespeak or propaganda. What it boils down to is a con.

Campaigns of misinformation exist because they work. Calling something by the wrong name enough times starts by confusing the issue, but it really doesn’t take long before people start believing it. Especially if they have a limited knowledge of the subject. This is why it is critically important to challenge misinformation.

Because except for the misinformed, the only supporters of an agenda contrary to the public good are those who will profit from it.

blades of grass

political astroturf?

In January I saw a photo picturing three Regina protesters carrying pro Harper placards in support of Prime Minister Harper’s premature prorogation which provided a counterpoint to Regina’s hundreds out protesting the prorogation. Were these three a Conservative Party attempt at astroturfing?

The same way powerful interests purchase advertising they purchase astroturf. The biggest difference is that advertisements are more honest– they are clearly advertisements.

“Astroturfers attempt to orchestrate the actions of apparently diverse and geographically distributed individuals, by both overt (“outreach”, “awareness”, etc.) and covert (disinformation) means. Astroturfing may be undertaken by an individual promoting a personal agenda, or highly organized professional groups with money from large corporations, unions, non-profits, or activist organizations. Very often, the efforts are conducted by political consultants who also specialize in opposition research. Beneficiaries are not “grass root” campaigners but distant organizations that orchestrate such campaigns.”

Wikipedia on astroturfing

misinformation

The Office of the United States Trade Representative‘s infamous USTR Watch List is a prime example of misinformation mongering. The USTR has been making a point to include Canada on their watch list as a “haven for piracy” for years—- as long as the MPAA/RIAA has been lobbying Canada to pass copyright law beneficial to them.

The USTR watch list is supposedly a list of countries that don’t play by the rules. Canada’s inclusion on this list has been debunked by a whole host of authoritative voices speaking against it — including Michael Geist, Howard Knopf, as well as the American advocacy groups Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge. It seems the United States itself is much more of a “Pirate Haven” than Canada is (with some evidence suggesting that the DMCA may be a contributing factor to American IP piracy).

Yet because of the USTR’s watch list there have been a continuous stream of articles quoting the misinformation that Canada is a “pirate haven”.

United States Pirate Party logo... stylized Stars and Stripes overlaid on Pirate Party logo

Of course, Canada does have the Pirate Party of Canada. Like all the other Pirate Parties, the PPoC seeks balanced copyright legislation. They are a registered Canadian Political party who will no doubt field candidates for the next federal election. At this point Pirate Parties have sprung up in virtually every country in the world because “copyright” is being used as an excuse to assail freedom in every part of the world. And the United States has TWO: The American Pirate Party and the United States Pirate Party.]

the line in the grass

Probably the most famous astroturf group in the world today is “Balanced Copyright For Canada” who seem to be merrily astroturfing in support of Bill C-32, the supposed Copyright “Modernization” Bill. And you can bet they are seeding their website with as many mischaracterizations of Canada as a “pirate haven” as they can find. Of course, this is exactly the point of the USTR watch list. The USTR’s agenda is the supremacy of the United States in the world market.

The Balanced Copyright for Canada website is shrouded in mystery. Jesse Brown has been investigating trading tweets with CopyrightCanada since Monday. Apparently 130 members were initially listed on the site as members but that list seems to have vanished after Jesse tweeted that “everyone seems to work for a major music label”. So Balanced Copyright for Canada may well be made up of CRIA members along with employees economically influenced to join.

Jesse Brown's Twitter avatarJesse Brown seems to be pretty certain that the CRIA is behind the Balanced Copyright for Canada group. That would make sense since the CRIA is certainly one of the strongest proponents of Bill C-32. More than anyone The part of the Canadian music industry represented by the CRIA (which is to say the four music industry giants which happen to be the Canadian offshoots of the American RIAA) have been most affected by technology improvements. The CRIA used to control 99% of the Canadian recording industry but today their share of the market has dropped to a mere 70%. Although the CRIA proclaims piracy is why their profits have reduced they seem to ignore the fact that they’ve lost 30% of the market to Independents. A growing number of Canadian recording artists prefer to record their music independently and retain control of their own copyright. Perhaps it’s time for the CRIA to truly modernize their own business model instead of squandering their resources trying to legislate Canada back into the twentieth century.

istockphoto_8506505-happy-young-men-and-women-standing-together
Go to istockphoto for Royalty Free images

[I have to put “modernization” in quotations because Bill C-32 is antithesis of “modernizing”… but then the routine assignment of misleading names to legislation is another trend I could do without.]

boingboing logo

US record labels starts fake “citizen’s group” to support Canada’s DMCA article prompted boingboing reader Mark‘s comment that the photo used on the front page is a commercial image licensed from istock photo: Happy young men and women standing together – at least I hope they licensed it legally. If you look at the tiny “approval” Thumbnail to the right you can see that the image is not distorted, while the image used on the Balanced Copyright for Canada is distorted, most notably in the women at either end, which may well be copy protection.

You have to wonder if Balanced Copyright for Canada is a real grassroots group made up of artists, independents & folks involved in the recording industry as they claim, why did they have to buy an image?
I have yet to meet any kind of artist or creator who was limited to a single discipline. Surely if this is actually a coalition of creatives they would have somebody who could have taken a real picture?

A real grassroots movement would be unlikely to seeking out a commercial photo or justifying the expense when they could easily snap a shot of actual members. Astroturfers tend to be long on funds and short on committed members, so naturally they would have the necessary funds to purchase a commercial photo.

pirate party of canada

Shall I mention the irony of a group fighting for copyright (and royalties) opting for a one time cash flat rate that is conveniently royalty free?

This secretive http://balancedcopyrightforcanada.ca/ was forced to settle for the very long domain name since the Pirate Party of Canada had already registered the sleeker http://balancedcopyright.ca/ domain, which was apparently also sought by the Government of Canada earlier in the month.

soccer ball

More than eight thousand Canadians who made submissions to the 2009 Canadian Copyright Consultation, most of which opposed to a reprise of Bill C-61. Michael Geist’s breakdown shows “6641 Submissions were against anti-circumvention or in favour of limiting DRM/Digital locks”, yet Bill C-32 has actually made the digital lock provisions even more onerous than those in their previous Bill C-61.

Canadian DMCA

The Canadian Government elected not to make a submission to the USTR in protest of Canada’s specious inclusion on the USTR 301 watch list, nor have they emitted a peep to defend Canada’s right as a sovereign nation to draft our own laws.

Instead, the Canadian Government has tabled Bill C-32. Incredibly,

“The Tories held a press conference on the bill at the Montreal office of a U.S. video-game software developer Wednesday, a move intended to drive home the message that cracking down on copyright infringement protects investment in Canada.”

Globe and Mail, Tory bill cracks down on copyright pirates

Canadian Flag Superimposed on American Flag

Would you hold a press conference announcing “made in Canada” copyright legislation in the business office of a corporation from a foreign nation?

What kind of message would that send about our country’s sovereignty?

The thing that bothers me the most about THAT is the fact that it hasn’t raised an eyebrow.

Whose law is it anyway?

Hello?   Before Canada starts passing American legislation, perhaps we ought to have a referendum to decide if we wish Canada to become an American protectorate.

In Reality check: Anti-consumer copyright bill: written for the US, undermined by Ministers’ own behaviour the NDP showed the PMO’s position to be:

“We don’t care what you do, as long as the U.S. is satisfied.”

soccer balls interspersed with the feet of a few soccer players on a practice field

Heritage Minister James Moore dismissed the concerns of Mme. Lavallée, the Honourable Member from Saint- Bruno—Saint-Hubert when she questioned him about C-32’s failure to serve consumers with assurances that the Canadian Chamber of Commerce supported C-32. Moore’s apparent lack of comprehension that the Chamber of Commerce is a business lobby group rather than a consumer one sparked a letter refuting Moore’s claims that Canadian consumers support Bill C-32 reported in the CBC story Consumer groups blast Moore over copyright.

Citizens don’t want this law.

A great many creators don’t want it.   In fact, the only real support that Bill C-32 has seems to stem from the CRIA and the American USTR, RIAA and MPAA.

Why is the Canadian Government pursuing this so strongly?

Perhaps it’s time our Government started thinking about what legislating Canadian Copyright Law to appease foreign Interests will do to Canadian Heritage.
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#digicon

was #copycon futile?

Last year the Canadian Government held a Copyright Consultation to ask Canadians what we thought was important for Canadian copyright law. More than 8,000 Canadians from all across Canada made #copycon submissions. We have yet to see if we were heard, although rumour has it that the legislature will be seeing a new Canadian Copyright bill soon… possibly for June 2010. Many of us have serious concerns about whether it was an exercise in futility or not.

No.

From my perspective, even if the government does not listen and learn from the #copycon, I know I have learned an enormous amount about copyright and how we think from other Canadians who made submissions. From things I’ve read and learned from the #copycon, if I were to make a copyright submission today it would be very different. But that’s another post.

Canadians are talking about copyright, and understanding the forces at play much better. The conversation is far from over, and we need to get a handle on things and come to a consensus about before law is made.

What was said by Canadians in the formal Copyright Consultation submissions has laid the foundation of a valuable resource for all Canadians. A reference primer of “What Canadians Want”.

we don’t want bad law

But the law may be made anyway. Rumours that the government will try to push through a Canadian DMCA (a Bill C61 clone) have many citizens worried. But sometimes that happens, bad laws get passed.

Probably one of the biggest exercises in lawmaking futility was the American 1919 Volstead Act which we know more familiarly as Prohibition. God fearing law abiding solid citizens— people who wouldn’t have so much as dreamt of jay walking before Prohibition— instantly transformed into criminals frequenting speakeasies when the American law outlawing alcoholic beverages went into effect. The roaring twenties came and went before Prohibition was repealed in 1933.

Because prohibition favored the goals of a special interest group over society’s mores it just couldn’t work. Aside from fostering near universal flagrant contempt for the law among citizens, a serious byproduct was the support this bad law gave to the growth of organized crime. Before American Prohibition, the mafia was just some petty disorganized criminals. After Prohibition gangsters became rock stars. How many books, articles, movies and even musicals have grown up out of the gangster mystique. Canada’s own gangster wannabes in The Boyd Gang seem to have hatched out of the gangster mythology. Folk heroes even.

Friar Tuck and Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest, Robin In The Hood Festival
Hundreds of years later we still idolize Robin Hood

What I know of history has shown that when bad laws are passed the populace initially chafes and suffers. Although the government passing the bad law hopes that people will put up with it, one thing that they never seem to expect is that bad laws provide their opponents with points of commonality.

Often people who are ideologically incapable of co-operating are galvanized into finding a way to work together when a bad law is passed. The bad law itself becomes a visible rallying point, a specific dragon to slay.

One of the most compelling things that any bad law provides to its detractors are the martyrs.

Although I talked about this story as an example of what to expect if the secret A.C.T.A. treaty is passed, it is a real life demonstration of what is happening right now in the US under the existing American DMCA. A young woman went to jail for the crime of recording her sister’s birthday party.

And although history shows that bad laws tend to be overturned in time, I still think it’s better not to have bad laws in the first place.

In the case of copyright, the people who will be most harmed by bad copyright law are the younger generation, many of whom have not attained voting age. As a mother, this special interest group is important to me, because I don’t want to see bad things happen to our best and brightest.

As a student of history I do know that there will very soon be a time when this generation will not only be able to vote but, may well be able to form a government. When I was a teenager we thought running for student council was a big deal. Today Canada’s newest political party has been formed largely by people barely old enough to vote.

Digital Economy Consultation

In the meantime the Canadian government has again asked us for our input.

This time it is for a Digital Economy Consultation. How the Canadian Government reacts to the changes caused by the digital world will have a huge impact on our future. Our economy.

A long time ago Canada had climbed to the forefront of the world of technology with the Avro Arrow. Yet an incredibly short sighted government pulled the plug on that and well and truly killed the project. Naturally it triggered a “brain drain”, as many of Canada’s best and brightest migrated to the United States to work at NASA. Surely we don’t want to go that route again.

Acryllic on Illustration board painting by Aviation Artist Lance Russwurm
Once Canada led the world in technology...

We certainly don’t want to end up in a legislative shambles the way the United Kingdom has. Their ill advised Digital Economy Bill (know to Twitterati as #DEBill) which was rushed through the legislative procedure without proper scrutiny resulted in a hung parliament and the fall of a Prime Minister. Surely Canada doesn’t want to go that route either.

All Canadians should try to participate…

…even if we say what we think and what we want, and they choose not to hear, the ideas will still be out there floating in the ether.

Judging by the quantity and passion of the comments I’ve been reading in online articles to do with weighty issues like UBB and copyright, many of us have thought about this and have a lot of good ideas. This is a good place to put them. And what better time to be heard than when we are lucky enough to have a minority government. At times like this, governments at least try to give the appearance of listening.

Maybe that doesn’t sound like much, but as a mom I can tell you, when you ask your kid to pretend to go to sleep, before long he really is asleep. Maybe if our government starts out by appearing to listen to our submissions they will accidentally find themselves actually listening.

It’s worth a shot.

#digicon

I think that the #digicon will be just as valuable for Canadians as the #copycon was. The process isn’t quite the same as the earlier consultation. As I understand it, off topic comments (such as talking about copyright reform) are likely to be moderated out of the forums.

Read the #digicon Consultation Paper
Participate in the digicon forums – see what other people have to say
DENT about #digicon
tweet about #digicon.
Talk about it on your wall.
Then write your own submission.
**Note: They want a 250 – 500 word summary of the submission as well. I assume to make it easier to sort the piles.

the process

It seems that although the 40 page Submission Guidelines can be downloaded as a PDF, they are also available in clear HTML on the website. Yay! I love that they are asking for submissions in

text-only format or as a document upload (e.g., Word, RTF or WordPerfect formats”

http://de-en.gc.ca/submissions/

Sounds like they’d rather not get stuck in the PDF morass they had for copycon. Deconstructing all the PDF submissions is probably the chief reason why it took so long for all the submissions to be posted online.
(I hate PDFs!)

time limit

As of today, there are 49 days to make a submission. But there’s a lot to think about, so don’t leave it until the last minute (as so many of us did with #copycon)

Things you might say today may help someone else develop a brilliant strategy that would benefit us all. (Hint: that’s why re:mixing is such a good idea)

back-up

I read a comment yesterday from someone who was concerned that the comment or link they’d posted to the #digicon page had been subsequently removed (or moved somewhere else).

If you’re concerned that may happen to your comments or links, or if you’ve something you want to say about the Canadian Digital Economy Consultation that you feel may not survive their moderation, feel free to put it in the #digicon links & comments
My only rules: no spam, no personal attacks/hate mongering.

Similarly, if you have pertinent links you think may help answer questions or examine the issues, feel free to include them. If they start to pile up, when I have a minute I’ll list them under #digicon links in the sidebar.

insurance

Because some Canadians are a bit cynical, we not only submitted our formal #copycon submission to the government, we also posted it on our blogs or websites as (ahem) insurance.

As any emerging artist knows, the wider you can disseminate your art the more people will have the opportunity to become a fan. Or in this case, the more people who can see and read the argument, the more can understand the argument.

to blog or not to blog

If you don’t have one, you can get a free blog from various sources; personally I’d recommend WordPress.
If you don’t want a blog, but want to be heard, I’m willing to post submissions on the Oh! Canada blog as a guest post.

Consultation Questions

Innovation Using Digital Technologies

  • Should Canada focus on increasing innovation in some key sectors or focus on providing the foundation for innovation across the economy?
  • Which conditions best incent and promote adoption of ICT by Canadian business?
  • What would a successful digital strategy look like for your firm or sector? What are the barriers to implementation?
  • Once copyright, anti-spam and data breach/privacy amendments are in place, are their other legislative or policy changes needed to deal with emerging issues?
  • How can Canada use its regulatory and policy regime to promote Canada as a favourable environment for e-commerce?

Digital Infrastructure

  • What speeds and other service characteristics are needed by users (e.g., consumers, businesses, public sector bodies) and how should Canada set goals for next generation networks?
  • What steps must be taken to meet these goals? Are the current regulatory and legislative frameworks conducive to incenting investment and competition? What are the appropriate roles of stakeholders in the public and private sectors?
  • What steps should be taken to ensure there is sufficient radio spectrum available to support advanced infrastructure development?
  • How best can we ensure that rural and remote communities are not left behind in terms of access to advanced networks and what are the priority areas for attention in these regions?

Growing the ICT Industry

  • Do our current investments in R&D effectively lead to innovation, and the creation of new businesses, products and services? Should we promote investments in small start-ups to expand our innovation capacity?
  • What is needed to innovate and grow the size of the ICT industry including the number of large ICT firms headquartered in Canada?
  • What would best position Canada as a destination of choice for venture capital and investments in global research and development mandates?
  • What efforts are needed to address the talent needs in the coming years?

Canada’s Digital Content

  • What does creating Canada’s digital content advantage mean to you?
  • What elements do you want to see in Canada’s marketplace framework for digital media and content?
  • How do you see digital content contributing to Canada’s prosperity?
  • What kinds of infrastructure investments do you foresee making in the future? What kinds of infrastructure will you need in the future to be successful at home and abroad?
  • How can stakeholders encourage investment, particularly early stage investment, in the development of innovative digital media and content?

Building Digital Skills

  • What do you see as the most critical challenges in skills development for a digital economy?
  • What is the best way to address these challenges?
  • What can we do to ensure that labour market entrants have digital skills?
  • What is the best way to ensure the current workforce gets the continuous upskilling required to remain competitive in the digital economy? Are different tactics required for SMEs versus large enterprises?
  • How will the digital economy impact the learning system in Canada? How we teach? How we learn?
  • What strategies could be employed to address the digital divide?

Improving Canada’s Digital Advantage

  • Should we set targets for our made-in-Canada digital strategy? And if so, what should those targets be?
  • What should the timelines be to reach these targets?

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There are a lot of questions. After reading the material, listening and/or participating in the forum discussions, chatting with co-workers around the water cooler or the oil rig, or the kids in your youth group, or with your e-friends on Identi,ca, Twitter or Facebook…

Say what you think.

Our government is asking us for input. Let’s give it to them.

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[Digital Economy Simulpost: Since this will affect all Canadians, I’m posting the same post in all three of my blogs, Oh! Canada, StopUBB, and in the wind]