Byron Sonne and… Copyright?

Byron Sonne’s trial resumed today. Without being there, I can only rely on the reports of others.  I wasn’t going to write anything about this today, but I couldn’t believe the National Post’s attempt to spin the story with a headline:

Accused G20 plotter Byron Sonne had training manual for activists,’ court hears

Free Byron

The word “plotter” does not appear once in the Criminal Code of Canada  so there is little doubt in my mind that the use of such a pejorative word is a clear indication of the newspaper publisher’s bias.

What was most disturbing to me is that the gist of the article seemed to be that Byron “had uploaded a document called Security Culture: A Handbook for Activists. ” Curious, the first thing I did was type the title in a google search.   In seconds Google presented me with “51,900 results.”  So naturally I clicked on the first one and downloaded the linked PDF file.

Security Culture:
a handbook for activists

Your Rights

INVESTIGATORS. You do not have to talk to them on
the street, if you’ve been arrested, or even if you’re in
jail. Do not talk about illegal actions with fellow “in-
mates” in holding as they may be plants.

to see the warrant. It must specificallydescribe the
place to be searched and things to be seized. It must
be authorized by a judge and should bear a signature.

Carefully observe the officers; you’re in your own
home you’re not required to stay in one room. You
should take written notes of what they do, their
names, badge numbers, and what agency they’re
from. Have friends who are present act as witnesses.
It’s risky to let cops roam around alone in your place.

JUST SAY NO. The police are very skilled at getting
information from people, so attempting to outwit them
is very risky. You can never tell how a seemingly
harmless bit of information can hurt you or someone

Security Culture:
a handbook for activists, Third edition – prepared November 2001

Call me crazy, but I read the same sort of thing on Boing Boing not so long ago. And yesterday I found a video produced by The Centre for Police Accountability (C4PA) where Toronto lawyer Davin Charney explains much the same thing.

These are all explanations of our Canadian civil rights — rights that are supposed to be guaranteed to all citizens under our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The thing that bothers me most about the National Post article is the implication that this is a dangerous document. That there is something unsavory about citizens knowing what our right are. Now that scares me.

“If we don’t assert our rights there’s really no point in having rights.”

Davin Charney, Know Your Rights: Do you have to show ID to the police?

The other thing I’ve read are today’s trial notes taken by Byron’s friend Christopher Olah. Reading this is far more illuminating than the “professional” reporting in the National Post.

The police evidence is that Byron uploaded a file called “Security Culture: a handbook for activists,” but as it turns out, no one actually downloaded this (or any of the other files?) Byron is said to have uploaded to torrent sites.

Yet it is ridiculously easy to change a digital file name. Any can save a document and call it anything.

Even had this been a dangerous file, if the police didn’t actually download it, the only thing this “evidence” shows is that Byron uploaded digital files with these names. There is no evidence that the files actually contained the named documents — they could as easily contain love poetry for all anyone knows.

Which means that this “evidence” is supposition, not fact. But it gets worse…


copyright symbol over a red maple leaf

Apparently the prosecution offered the explanation that they could not download the document because doing so  would be copyright infringement.

Um.  Where did they get that idea?

I looked very closely at the Security Culture: a handbook for activists PDF document I just downloaded and nowhere is there anything resembling a copyright declaration.  There is no copyright ©.

This “handbook” is clearly a collaborative effort that various people and organizations have worked on over time.  If anyone involved in the creation of the thing  had given any thought to copyright, it would likely have been to give it a creative commons license, or even more probably released it directly into the public domain.  That’s what you do when you want to disseminate something widely.  Copyright prevents sharing.

But really, even if the document was in fact “protected” by copyright, this is one of the lamest excuses I have ever heard.

When the police bust criminals, they must gather evidence.  If they apprehend alleged drug dealers, they collect illegal drugs they find. If the police arrest suspected gun runners, they take possession of the guns.  And these are both examples of breaches of criminal law. But for sections 42 and 43 of the Copyright Act (which deal primarily with commercial copyright infringement), the Copyright Act is still primarily civil law.  There are fair dealing exemptions under Canadian law that allow copying of copyright material.  It is absurd to think that downloading material that may be covered by copyright in the course of evidence gathering is going to be considered infringement, any more than gathering up baggies of cocaine at a crack house are considered criminal “possession.” This is evidence gathering.

Torrents are not Illegal

The other thing that strikes me is the implication that uploading material to torrent sites is illegal. Nothing could be further from the truth.   Bit Torrent is a way of allowing very efficient use of internet bandwidth to share files.   There is all sorts of legal sharing done via torrent sites, from movies (Sita Sings The Blues or Die Beauty), to free software (Ubuntu, Open Office, Firefox) to eBooks (Project Gutenberg and Project Gutenberg Canada) and our very own Pirate Party of Canada, which established its very own “Pirate Tracker” to legally distribute freely licensed independent Canadian music via torrents.

[*note: edited 20 March, 2012 for factual clarification …thanks Russell!]

ProRogue Bay

People like Michael Geist and Jesse Brown are tweeting about “ProRogue Bay”.

Caricature of Prime Minister Harper on a pirate ship with parliament buildings sliding into the sea
ProRogue Bay Image

Because the scurvy pirates over there in the Pirate Bay are a real hoot.

They’ve plastered the caricature (pictured at the right) of our very own Prime Minister Stephen Harper on the front page of their website and wittily re-titled the page ProRogue Bay.

Some people might (and I’m sure do) believe that the Pirate Bay the most wretched hive of scum and villainy because it is the most famous and most slippery file sharing website.

My Favorite Pirate

The Pirate Bay site has changed hands and jurisdictions to stay ahead of those who want — at the very least to shut it down — but would prefer — to imprison those knavish pirates running it.   I imagine that it’s one of those high-burnout jobs… like being the Dread Pirate Roberts.

For myself, I worry that eventually the copyright lobby will succeed in killing file sharing as their incessant propaganda will eventually brainwash enough of us into thinking file sharing is bad. When in fact you can find out from my StopUBB blog that

There are other uses for BitTorrent that are not only legal, but even perfectly acceptable in polite society.

The Nightengale and the Rose by Oscar Wilde; preserved by Project GutenbergActually one of the biggest problems with the copyright mess facing not just us in Canada, but citizens of many other countries around the world, is that laws are being written and civil liberties assailed supposedly in the name of “copyright”. These changes to copyright law are designed to criminalize all copyright infringement, which was previously a civil matter.

Interestingly enough, the bar for the standard of evidence required in civil court is much lower than that in criminal court. It seems that the new criminal copyright laws will be transporting the lower standards to criminal court, along with adjustments such as removing annoying concepts like “innocent until proven guilty”.

These changes to the law are being driven under secret treaties called CETA and ACTA. In the driver’s seat you’ll find organizations like the MPAA and corporations like Disney who are telling governments how to draft the law these organizations want. Worse, the whole process is being carried on behind closed doors with such strenuous non-disclosure agreements being applied that most of the elected representatives of governments engaged in these negotiations aren’t even aware of the details.

Previously, laws in democratic nations were drafted according to the societal norms and ethics of the countries, not handed down from above like tablets from heaven… not in democratic nations anyway.

Seems things are changing.

Changing the name of Pirate Bay to ProRogue Bay is a brilliant bit of strategizing on behalf of the pirates, since this will surely drive a lot of traffic to their site, which is regularly de-listed by search engines like Google.

But interestingly enough, if you go to the ProRogue Bay page and click on Prime Minister Stephen Harper you will discover that it is a link to the No ProRogue website which has launched a new CAPP forum off Facebook. This will allow Canadians who don’t use Facebook to participate in the grass roots consultation process.

So in fact, the pirate bay pirates are assisting Canadians seeking answers to our own home grown questions about democracy in our home and native land. There is precedent after all… if I recall my history, famed pirate Jean Lafitte was quite a proponent of democracy in his day.

Arr arr.


Courtesy of Andrew Davidson’s CBC Online: UPDATED: H(ar-r-r)per gets the Pirate Bay treatment (but don’t tell Ezra Levant…) article, I now know that The Pirate Bay’s “Prorogue Bay” Link has been discontinued. Of course as I was typing this my teenager came in and told me about it too. Go figure.

But the No Prorogue CAPP Forum is alive and well.

Go Democracy Go!