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.
a horizontal border of red graphic maple leaves

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NoProRogue: Signs

Signs of Democracy

No Prorogue Rally: Guelph, Ontario

We held grassroots rallies and marches across this great land in heartfelt protest against Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s shameless premature prorogation which he effected solely to avoid government accountability to Canadian citizens.

On the 23rd day of January, 2010 Canadians of all ages and political affiliations (or none) took to the streets in peaceful assembly.

The rally changes to a March along the streets of Guelph

Coming from the earlier Waterloo Rally, I was late arriving in Downtown Guelph, but I got there in time to see the Rally transform into a March.

Sign in the crowd of Marchers reads: return power to parliament

These are some of the signs I saw on the Guelph NoProrogue march that day.

On the march: a sign reads "get back to work mps"

The gods smiled on our just cause: it was a mild day, although winter in Canada.   Canadians of all ages turned out to give voice to our concerns through peaceful assembly.

"ENOUGH" reads the sign "Get Back to Work"

Is it any wonder that a great deal of the outrage centers around the fact that the premature prorogation means that our hundreds of members of Parliament will not be at work due to the premature proragation… yet they continue to receive their paychecks courtesy of Canadian tax dollars paid by ordinary Canadians.   That’s us.

This sign demands 145 Tory MPs: Git Back To Work

For most Canadians no work means no pay.   So this sounds rather like a prorogation vacation to many Canadians.

Restore Power to Parliament sign
A drawing of a Perogie tells us "Perogies Not Prorogation"

It took me a minute to “get” the sign (right) until the lightbulb lit and I realized it was picturing a perogie.   I don’t know about you but I can always use a good laugh.   Leave it to Canadians, not only are we polite, but we’ve long been world leaders in the field of humour.   I rather like perogie-prorogue pun.

Return Power to Parliament

But the point is that the Canadian tipping point was the attack on democracy.

The fair vote Canada guy sports a Canadian Flag cape: No More Wasted Votes

Who says Canadians don’t wrap themselves in the flag?   We may be flawlessly polite, comparatively quiet and incredibly law abiding, but we love our country.   It was inspiring to see all the people wearing Canadian flags in one way or another that day.

Signs: "Restore Democracy"

And heartening to see so many hand made signs.   A great deal of passion — and effort — went into this day.

Of Democracy

With government like we’ve got, we can all surely use a smile

Is it any wonder that this song was running through my head while putting this collection together?

So although this hasn’t got anything to do with the grassroots NoProrogue movement, or Canada as far as I can tell, this video has some of the funniest signs I’ve seen in a long time… accompanied by the Tesla song “Signs”



Write to your Member of Parliament and tell them what you think about premature prorogation or anything else! You can find your MP with this lovely link – it will also help you find out who your MP is if you don’t know. It’s time that Canadians started letting them know what we think about how they represent us.
Find your Member of Parliament

Write to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and tell him too!
Prime Minister/Premier Ministre Stephen Harper <pm@pm.gc.ca>

The government gives more weight to postal mail: you can mail your comments without a stamp!!:

The Right Hon. Stephen Joseph Harper, P.C., B.A., M.A.
1600 90th Avenue Southwest, suite A-203
Calgary, Alberta
T2V 5A8

Canada badly needs electoral reform. Take a peek at the Non-Partisan Fair Vote Canada site to get information some ideas of electoral reform. All Canadians need to join in these non-partisan discussions.