All publicly funded content should be in the public domain.

Jesse Brown, a BoingBoing guest-blogger, is the host of TVO's Search Engine podcast.

A few years ago I hosted a mini-series for CBC Radio called The Contrarians, a show about "unpopular ideas that just might be right". Each week I'd take a controversial opinion and try it on for size. Sometimes the show was serious, sometimes it was silly- I rarely agreed with the positions I took, but operated on the principle that no idea is so radical or offensive that we should be forbidden to contemplate it (if only to learn why we should discard it). The CBC brass was incredibly supportive of the project and I was given license to explore a lot of unorthodox subject matter. Topics included:

I'd love to link to these shows now, but I can't. They were never posted online or offered as podcasts. I tried posting them on my personal website, and was instructed to take them down by CBC management. I was told I was violating their copyright. Every now and then I'll get an email from a teacher or listener requesting an episode of The Contrarians, and I have to explain that I'd be breaking the law to send one.

Let's put aside my personal frustration at having my work locked away. The real question here is, since CBC content is funded by the public, shouldn't the public own it? Or at least have access to it? Actually, the CBC archives are just the tip of the iceberg: the overwhelming majority of stuff made for Canadians with Canadians' money is inaccessible to Canadians.

In Canada, movies are supported by Telefilm, TV by the Canadian Television Fund, books and art by The Canada Council for the Arts, and so on. But most of this stuff isn't distributed very well or for very long, and you can only get your hands on a fraction of it.

So I want to put forth one more contrarian position: I think that any publicly funded content should (within, say, 5 years of its creation) be released to the public domain.

Thoughts? (Un-Canadians welcome. Let's open an international discussion about this.)


  1. Au Contraire. This shouldn’t be the least bit a contrary position. And two years seems quite reasonable to me. Good luck.

  2. How much Canadian production gets shown in the US? A lot, I think. The drug companies say buying cheap Canadian drugs is ‘importing their Socialism’ but doesn’t the American media ‘import Canadian Socialism’ all the time at the expense of American TV and move production?

  3. Well, the Murdoch hellspawn is dead against it, ergo, it’s a good thing. Here’s some of his recent rant against the BBC:


    However, his most withering comments were reserved for the BBC. “The corporation is incapable of distinguishing between what is good for it, and what is good for the country,” he clamed. “Funded by a hypothecated tax, the BBC feels empowered to offer something for everyone, even in areas well served by the market. The scope of its activities and ambitions is chilling.”

    He described the BBC’s purchase of the travel guide publisher Lonely Planet as a “particularly egregious example of the expansion of the state” and compared government intervention in broadcasting with failed attempts to manipulate the international banana market in the 1950s.

    Murdoch added that the BBC’s news operation was “throttling” the market, preventing its competitors from launching or expanding their own services, particularly online. News International, the News Corp subsidiary that owns the company’s British newspapers, including the Sun and the Times, is currently considering introducing charges for all its websites.

    “Dumping free, state-sponsored news on the market makes it incredibly difficult for journalism to flourish on the internet. Yet it is essential for the future of independent journalism that a fair price can be charged for news to people who value it,” he said.


    add your snark here.

  4. Absolutely. I had a documentary on CBC Radio myself, & I am not allowed to distribute it in any form -and it was a doc about my own family!

  5. What’s contrarian about this? Seems obvious- I would say everything ever made should be in the public domain, period, since the idea that you can “own” an idea is ridiculous and arrogant.

    But we can start with your proposal and see how it goes.

  6. It seems reasonable and logical, if I spend money in something i expect to see the product for free. Would it not be funny if you bought a radio and had to pay every time you turn it on?
    In my country, Spain, most movies are really heavy in public funding, but most people dont watch em because they are awful. Always the same topics: civil war, post-war, tits, womans complaining and combination of these… I believe that even if they where free people wouldn’t watch Spanish movies. Nobody want a shit cake, even if it´s free.
    My two (euro) cents.

  7. Anything that’s fully publicly-funded should be public domain. Crown Copyright is silly (and has been used for censorship (I recall hearing about a film that wanted to use federal fisheries data and film footage to make a pro-environment anti-Tory movie whose requests were denied without adequate cause), and the copyright of crown corporations doubly so. I seem to recall hearing that, in the US, anything produced by their government is immediately in the public domain. Access to that stuff is pretty difficult to get in some instances, and may require permission and cash, but once you have it, distribution and remixing is permitted.

    Requiring that productions accept as a condition of receiving provincial/federal television and film tax credits, that they must enter their works into the public domain after N years is probably a good way to kill the Canadian Import Film Industry (ie, it’ll stem the flow of work from south of the border that gets produced here purely to take advantage of the tax credits)… but it’s an interesting idea, to be sure.

  8. I’d say that any content made with public money shouldn’t be protected by copyright at all, and that even copyrighted works should only be protected for a limited time of 5-10 years. Why should we support a system that simply redistributes wealth to the rich?

    A good society should offer limited rewards for good, novel ideas, but our system simply transfers our money to those who can patent our culture and prevents any real advancement from taking place.

  9. I am currently working on a project that is receiving funding from Telefilm, so hopeful my perspective will be interesting.

    The project I am working on costs several million dollars and our Telefilm funding is around $100,000 and we are have to repay all of that money from the every dollar we make (not just our profits).

    If we were required to release to the public domain in 5 years, we would never have gotten the rest of the private funding.

    I think it great that Canada supports these projects, but putting too many restrictions will cut off the very creativity it is meant to foster.

  10. That seems like an entirely reasonable proposition, yes.

    we’d have to differentiate between content that’s funded by the government (ex: CBC) and content that’s funded from grants to private artists, though – a lot of Canadian writers, musicians, and artists partially subsist through grants.

  11. Let’s not confuse publicly-owned institutions like the BBC and CBC with arts grants to private individuals and institutions that only partially cover the cost of creation or publication.

    The argument for letting state-owned broadcasters own their own copyrights is surely that they can use them to create new revenues and finance new production without going back to the taxpayer’s wallet. You can take that argument or leave it, and it clearly doensn’t apply in the case of works that end up in the archives with no public life.

    Ditto, maybe, for academics employed full-time by public institutions, as they’re paid to create; hence the open-access stipulations attached to a growing number of research grants.

    Works created by the recipients of arts grants, on the other hand, have only been partially underwritten by public money. Should an investment that covers perhaps 10% of the cost of publishing a book, or 15% of an author’s living expenses while she wrote it, give the public such a large stake in the author’s copyright?

    Public funding for the arts, in Canada at least, mostly exists to offset the disadvantages of creating in a country on the fringe. It supports creation, but it doesn’t pay for it. At least not in its current incarnation.

  12. One big related issue in the U.S. is building and fire codes. Those model codes are written by private organizations but then adopted, usually verbatim or with very few changes, by local governments. Thus, that code becomes a locality’s law. But unlike most laws, which you can copy and distribute at will, those codes are still protected by a purported copyright.

    I think copyright of adopted codes has been challenged successfully in only one federal court. This is a fight the EFF ought to take on. How dare the International Codes Council and the National Fire Protection Association lock our laws away under a claim of copyright?

  13. How about yes and no?

    On the one hand, I don’t like the idea of NFB or CBC media being locked away forever, but I am all for the idea that public media organizations should try to maximize their investments as much as possible.

    I mean, yes, it would be great if the CBC could get as much money as it needed to do everything it wanted, but with budgets being what they are, they’ve got to make do with what they have, which means they have to sell, rent, whatever, the media they produce. They produce stuff for broadcast and don’t charge for it then, so perhaps selling it for other uses is ok?

    That being said, if there isn’t a market to sell something, it should be made available for free.

    With, of course, the exceptions of shows with extensive music in them that they can’t redistribute for reasons of rights clearance, which is a different issue entirely.

    I know the CBC (specifically) is getting better at this – most current radio shows are now available for free as podcasts to anyone with an internet account.

    Older stuff? Dunno. I think it would be a simply amazing thing for the CBC/TVO/NFB (whatever) to digitize everything in their entire archive – broadcast or otherwise – and make the whole thing available to everyone. That would cost (m/b)illions, however, and nobody is going to pay for that.

  14. While it’s a good idea in theory, most “publicly funded” properties have a good deal of private money in them as well. Public funding for TV and movies maxxes out at 49% (if my numbers are still current).

  15. You’d still want to take advantage of the incentive systems offered by copyright. So probably not direct-to-public-domain release.

  16. @Pygandamist Good comments.

    The problem is that, even for institutions like CBC and TVO, the content tends to not be fully financed by government money. These organizations use their dollars to leverage content created by external producers, who then also tap into Canadian Television Fund or other money. So it’s becoming rare that anything is actually paid for 100% by government money.

    But it doesn’t mean it should not be a defined goal.

    You would think it would be much easier for something like CBC Radio, which creates far more content in-house than does CBC Television.

    TVO, as usual, seem to be further ahead in making content available for the people who fund it.

  17. This post completely breezes over the actual problem: the CBC has bad licences with its independent producers. This has nothing to do with copyright at all, but the CBC taking advantage of independent producers. In this case, Jesse Brown.

    The reason why things are not well distributed is because of the power of the broadcasters to give bad deals to independent producers. Copyright is the only negotiating tool of the independent producer, and to make everything public domain would mean there would be no negotiating power. And 50% of the artistic creators would be out of work, because there would be no funding to finance the projects.

    A very very large amount of cultural products receive funding from the Canadian government, the reason being, we don’t have the market to actually finance the products, and we are competing with the largest cultural producer in the world south of the border. Canada has a unique cultural market and reductive arguments like public money = public ownership don’t help the debate. Public money also equals public accountability. You would never suggest that we own the MPs’ houses because they could pay for them with our tax-dollars. Furthermore, the CTF is not just public money but also taken from the cable and satellite companies as part of their licences.

    Crown copyright on the other hand is not the same as publicly funded works, and should not be confused.

    I’m sorry to attack this post so much, but it really lacks any subtly and understanding of how public funding works, how the distribution channels of Canada operate, or the effects of ridiculous proposals therein have on the cultural production sectors of Canadian society.

  18. If the production is 100% funded by Canadian taxpayers then yes, however, I’m not sure how one would contend with partial funding through grants and tax credits.

  19. Does anybody have data on what portion of this show was paid for via tax money versus other funding sources? E.g., versus revenue from licensing out their copyrighted works?

    I agree that leaving useful content to rot in vaults is dumb, an artifact of an age where content was scarce and expensive. I’m just skeptical that this solution is a very good one. The TV industry has already gotten a lot better about hoarding, so I’m willing to see where they get before imposing legal mandates.

  20. Depends on Licensing. Not Public Domain.

    Public Domain means anybody can use it for anything.

    Definitely not correct.

    So your saying what is essentially is the Canadian Government should release into the public domain anything they create after 5 years? Are you insane man?

    While that sounds like good faeries and unicorns, how about this bundle of joy: So the government does some project. It is funded by the tax payer. The tax payer got to pay lets say 30 million dollars for sake of argument (but realize as a total impact we are likely talking billions) for that pleasure. It was an important project that was important to Canadians. Be it media, data collection, etc… In many cases (in fact I would say most), the Canadian government has a responsibility to it’s citizens to, get a reasonable return for resources. This likely works created. So if you put that into the public domain, and someone, company, other government, etc can use it free and clear. Political heads would roll.

    The public paid for this creation, the Canadian Public deserve to get a return on their investment. It would be irresponsible for the government to simply make that “free”. Particularly when some other entity decides to make a profit off that work without compensation. That said there are cases where stuff is offered up for free, Census Data is likely one of them.

    Having said all that, there are many many different ways to Licence things. Some are more reasonable for somethings, and some for others.

    Many times you can get “stuff” with a licence that says you can use it, but you can’t make a profit off of it or resell it etc… Other Licences only let you use it in a limited way.

    Anyway it isn’t a simple and/or clear cut decision.

    I know myself I went to TVO and wanted to download a copy of a show I watch on TV, but I could only stream it. I suspect this is TVO watching out for their and Ontario citizens interests on content that they have created. Or maybe they just suck.

    Don’t get me wrong, the public domain is a nice easy answer. I am just saying I can see why it isn’t that way, and I would suggest that it probably isn’t really the way to go.

  21. There is an analogous case study that is equally as egregious: publicly funded scholarly research that is owned, upon publications, by private corporations like Elseveir.

    All Canadian professors and state university US professors are paid a publicly funded salary. As part of their official duties, they must do research as evidenced by peer-reviewed publications. But the vast majority of peer-reviewed journals are privately owned. Their very own publicly funded universities must pay enormous subscription fees just to get access to the research they themselves produced!

    Is this wrong? Absolutely. The CBC example is analogous. They are both cases of public institutions blindly adopting private-rights copyright practices because a) they are not imaginative and b) socio-legal frameworks offer few alternatives.

  22. Of course not “everything”.

    But I have long been frustrated that Canadians have to pay for the use of the translation tool called “Termium” funded by millions of dollars of public money :

    This should be free for all Canadians, if only for promoting “national unity”.

  23. I will support any changes to copyright that provide me with easy access to downloadable episodes of Prisoners of Gravity.

  24. My wife has been yelling at the TV and the intarwebs everytime she sees mention of an old beloved production out of canada that has faded into obscurity even though thousands of fans are trading bad vhs taped rips of these same things.

    She does however, offer up a solution that would (or should) be pleasing to all those involved.

    A giant Canadian web site that sold a digital or disk based copy of everything tax payers money goes into. A percentage, far less than 50%, goes to the government and then the rest goes to the owner of the production.

    The thing about it though would be that you would have to have an incredibly strong and important reason to get the govt to take the piece down.

    The whole idea of the tax grants and such are the promotion of Canadian culture and business.

    having a film made on government funds just to go into obscurity in a few months is insane. The government needs to do what it claims it set out to do!

    If I have mis represented my wife I’m sure she’ll come on and correct me.. but that is pretty much the jist of it.

  25. It makes sense for the CBC, TVO etc. to be able to sell their stuff — they are always short of money, and sales would help with that. But if they don’t or can’t sell it, it shouldn’t just disappear — perhaps a rule such as “if it hasn’t been on the market in the last year, it should be free”, with perhaps some adjustment in the time scale as required, sounds reasonable to me.

    (p.s. I’m in Ontario, Canada)

  26. Just to play Devil’s Advocate (which is where this sorta starts anyways…)

    There ARE some good reasons to keep some publicly funded ideas out of the public domain. Academia is a place where some such are encountered. It was mentioned above that almost all articles, when published, become the property of the publisher. While I don’t like this, the fact is that publishing a traditional print journal is tremendously expensive, and since open access internet journals have not garnered a good reputation yet, people will continue to publish in the print journals. And since they (technically) take a risk in publishing material, it’s fair enough that they want ownership of it. And really, they only own EXACTLY those words. The ideas, the work, still belongs to the authors. Elsevier only gets that organization of words and graphics.

    More importantly, consider academic drug discovery. Academic groups occasionally find interesting drugs, and are granted patents on them. Why, you ask? Why should a publicly funded drug be patented, instead of sold free? Because of clinical trials, of course! Typically, the academic who develops a drug then sells it to a big company, which then runs the (hideously expensive) clinical trials on it. Without patent, no company will invest the billions required to run those trials. Which means the drug can never be marketed, and it dies. Which is bad all around.

    So, there ARE situations where it makes (some) sense not to put publicly funded ideas into the public domain.

  27. with the new world of producing things on demand, there is no reason to say “if it hasn’t been on the market in the last year, it should be free”

    the web site would stay up and if you want it you pay if you don’t want it you don’t even look for it.

    I don’t get why it would be free if undesired, cause if undesired then it doesn’t need to be free?

  28. Two comments:

    Commenter #5 DASMEMSEN wrote:

    I would say everything ever made should be in the public domain, period, since the idea that you can “own” an idea is ridiculous and arrogant.

    Dasmemsen shows a common misunderstanding of the underpinnings of copyright. Ideas are not copyrightable. What is copyrightable is the execution of that idea in a fixed form. You cannot copyright “aliens land on the earth with a warning for humanity.” But you can copyright the screenplays for “The Day The Earth Stood Still” and “V” — both of which use this basic idea.

    That’s why there’s nothing stopping you from writing your own magnum opus about vampires, or by using the major or minor scale to write an earwormingly catchy song.

    You also can’t copyright the idea of a chair. But if you knock off the Aeron design, the people from Herman Miller will come after you hardcore.

    Second, one must be careful of blanket solutions to complicated problems. In the case of the internet we have a technology that now makes copying easy, but works that were created under previous licensing — before the internet existed — never anticipated the demand or the technology.

    Just because there’s demand for these works now doesn’t void the contracts or agreements under which they were created. That’s why DVD music licensing sometimes keeps shows off the shelf.

    Part of the fight going on in Canada right now over copyright is (at least on some turf) the attempt to create a technology-neutral, forward looking framework that will make licensing for technologies and uses yet unknown less of a bear to figure out.

    But you can’t just void all that came before and unilaterally impose a solution that was negotiated or agreed to under previous laws. If you want to do that for intellectual property, then can we do it for, say, physical property too? I think everyone agrees that giving away the land down by the water to build all those condos was probably a mistake. Can we get that land back now? Well, um. Why not?

    In the case of the CBC, and other public broadcasters it’s sometimes a case of the return vs. the reality. The public broadcasters are bound by agreements they signed. So great, things that were done in the past and that are “in the vault” are thrown open so everybody can use it.

    …and what happens when the talent, writers, producers, etc, come back wanting compensation for those uses?

    …You just tell them no? Well, there’s no way these companies can do that.

    So fine, do we cede a whole bunch of more money to all these organizations so they can hire lawyers to clear it? Where does that money come from? who’s going to pay for it? You pay one way or another.

    People expect a whole lot for the 34 bucks they pay a year for CBC. Ontarians pay even less for TVO.

    You may think it’s reasonable to think that that 34 bucks (or whatever) buys you an endless license to all the content produced by CBC. But I submit to you that that’s completely and utterly ridiculous.

    I’m sure there would be a way to clear Jesse’s program. Maybe there’s even a way for the CBC to partner with another organization to license some stuff that the CBC itself doesn’t have the resources to clear. But that would probably take the notion that there was actually demand sufficient enough to make it worth it.

    But surely the lesson of the internet is that you want to have your stuff be free like that? Go ahead. Do it.

    But don’t partner with organizations who have to follow certain rules of law and then complain that you have to follow those rules.

  29. All copyrights (and patents) should follow the trademark model of “Use it or lose it”. Publicly funded production companies have as much right to profit from their work (and use that money to produce more) as private ones, but if it’s just sitting on a shelf somewhere, then it should be returned to the public domain.

    Most content producers, public and private, remind me of nothing more than a toddler who has collected all the toys in a pile and stands over it shouting “Mine, mine!” Just as the child cannot possibly use all those toys at once, most producers cannot hope to make any reasonable income on productions like The Contrarians after its first run. Yet they sit on them “just in case”. It is childish and wasteful.

    If they believe there is a market for these older productions, they should be made available at a reasonable price ($1 per episode). Otherwise, they should not be allowed to hoard content indefinitely. Especially not if it was publicly funded.

  30. Chip, who thinks all content creators are toddlers:

    I’m assuming that you’re willing to quit your job, and devote yourself full time to clearing all the rights to make all these programs available?

    I’m sure someone will figure out how to pay you for it.

    And if they don’t, you should just be happy that people out there are appreciating the work you’re doing for them, right?

    I’m sure people will make sure you’re still fed, clothed and housed.

    Sounds like a great deal.

    When do you start?

  31. This could work well with, e.g. academic research grants – the main benefit to the researcher is professional prestige.

    It could work reasonably well with big Hollywood-style film-making, particularly if there’s some flexibility as to copyright term (a film funded 90% privately could reasonably enjoy a longer copyright term than one funded only 25% privately)

    This has some serious flaws though, if you were to try to apply it to all the sorts of work supported by grants.

    Canada Council grants for emerging authors (those with only one book out) max out at $12,000. If an author lives extremely frugally and subsists on that grant money for a year while writing their second novel, should that persistence and frugality be rewarded by losing copyright? If it takes her that whole N year term to get established as a writer, and then finally the film studios want to make a film of her second novel, should they be able to say “She wrote that on a grant – let’s wait two more months, and then it will be in the public domain. We save money, and we can add all the car chases and titties we want without the author stopping us.” (and of course any publishing house could then do a print run based on the popularity of the film, without paying royalties either).

    Visual artists are probably an even better example of a situation where a longer copyright term is sensible. A painter can toil for years and years in near obscurity before becoming broadly appreciated, by which time his real productive years could be long gone. Then suddenly a painting whose original sold for $100 will sell hundreds of prints and tens of thousands of posters. Should he lose that economic benefit because he got a Canada Council grant to work on those paintings while living on the cheapest possible groceries in the crummiest available basement apartment?

    I don’t have exact figures, but I suspect the profit/time curve for a playwright’s work can also be very different from that of a film studio. The first run of a play might be barely profitable at all, but as the years pass and it gets better known, more and bigger theatres around the country will produce it – just around the time when a playwright who got grants to workshop the play, and would finally be looking at getting some nice royalty checks, would lose his copyright.

  32. in the United States, I believe everything produced by the Gov’t is released into the public domain.

    in Canada, we keep it locked away under crown copyright which never expires.

    yuck. it feels awful knowing that the U.S. is actually doing something better than we are.

  33. I agree with that statement of ” all publicly funded content should be in the public domain.” IT makes no sense that the CBC would be so protective of content they administered and produced with tax payer’s money.

    Now, that ‘s on the rational common sense side.

    But let’s see another point of view with this example:
    A parent gives an allowance to the kid every week. At the end of the year the kid buys a video camera. The parent wants to show in a big family party the videos shot by the kid. The kid refuses to show the content. The parent claims ownership due to providing the money and therefore is entitled to show it to anybody.

    This is a very general example with many options. I mean, Canadian’s tax payer money is no allowance to the government, it’s a mandatory civic duty.

    But perhaps that’s how the CBC perceives the work it produces.

  34. … something like an iTunes model with a small cost to the downloader with proceeds going towards digitizing the remaining archive?

    Yea, I know we paid for the stuff already, but we know the CBC doesn’t have the money.

  35. HEYWRITERBOY misunderstands the idea of “ideas”. The idea of a chair is an idea. The specific design of a $3000 chair sitting in a Soho boutique is also an idea. Neither can be owned, regardless of what we tell ourselves. Any idea, no matter how original-seeming, was built on the backs of thousands of other ideas, without whom our great money-making ideas wouldn’t exist. It could be Terry Gilliam’s BRAZIL or the design for the socks I’m wearing or the clever kitchen fixes my mother would do to make things work at home. It doesn’t matter. All ideas originate from sources far beyond ourselves. Our first mistake was to believe that, since we capitalized on the idea first, we should get compensation.

    I’m fully aware of how copyright began, and I understand its original intent and I’ll even say that it was a decent concept, to offer protection of R&D from the vultures who would take your idea and run with it. But the issue there wasn’t that you weren’t getting compensated so much that others were working the system in a way where they would make lots of money and you’d get nothing for all your hard work. THAT is unfair. Selling pirated copies of movies is unfair. Having the public benefit from exposure to your ideas even if you don’t see a cent is not unfair, that’s simply how the game of life works, and it’s a good system. The public domain is the only domain there is.

    We’re at a point where our social system functions on a rapidly-decaying false premise- that people can own their ideas- and because of that, we argue and argue for some kind of system that compensates people for their effort. I get why we do it, but it’s still a false premise. Eventually, we’ll have to let go of this false premise, as we will have to let go of oil-based automotive engines and other ideas that were once-useful but now harmful.

    If we want to take baby-steps in modifying our idea of copyright and ownership, fine, let’s do it in increments, but let’s fucking do it already. And then let’s get back to the idea that we don’t own the land we sleep on or the air we breathe or any other false notion we’ve cleverly invented for ourselves.

  36. @heywriterboy: I’d be glad to help with that.

    The notion that it requires people to go hungry isn’t very smart, though. As far as I know, nobody starved to make Wikipedia, and that took a lot more work than you’re talking about. A lot of people are willing to work for public benefit.

    Or we could just do it sort of like the DMCA: we presume republishing something for free is fine, and it’s up to the rightsholder to object after the fact if they’re really in a lather.

  37. I think public domain might be going a bit far.

    Perhaps this might be a bit more palatable to those who currently control the information if it were something more like “Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works”.

    Anyone gets to see the works any time they want, they are open access, but remixing/reuse/sale of the data is verboten. Or perhaps derivative works allowed. I dunno.

    Something just seems a bit drastic to me to force all of the TV and movies people worked on to become completely public domain.

  38. Sounds great until you try to work out the details, then you’ll hit the same problems the BBC did when they tried to open up all their content. Releasing a work into the public domain inevitably means that every element of that work gets released into the public domain, and that’s a legal quagmire.

    In the case of the BBC they found that almost everything they did was enmeshed in complex licensing and rights contracts that made most of their programming impossible to make public. MOst documentaries, for instance, are likely to feature some licensed music or stock footage – this will be licensed under specific terms which are very unlikely to allow you to just release your finished product to the public domain. Negotiating licensing terms for those elements that DID allow your documentary to be released to the public domain would mean you ended up paying many, many times more for them – massively increasing the cost of your production.

    And it’s not just simple licensing – there are lots of other contracts involved too. For instance, one well known BBC producer I spoke to mentioned a program he’d made about aids where he’d interviewed the family of a Japanese aids sufferer. They only agreed to be interviewed on the basis that the program was never shown in Japan. Obviously that precludes the program being released to the public domain, so what do you do? Re-cut the program (at great expense), not include the (potentially important) footage in the first place?

    The BBC genuinely tried its best to work out ways to release its content to the public domain, and payed a small fortune to lawyers to try to work it out, but by and large they’ve failed.

  39. For starters, I’m an American so I don’t know a lot about the way they do things in Canada, but…

    I think it would be nice if the public had free or better access to the things that tax payer money funds. I’m envisioning better sharing of not just things like public television programs, but things like scientific data from studies that were funded with public money and better access to innovations like drugs and technology that were developed with gov’t financial support.

    I think the idea of releasing them into the public domain after 5 years is a great idea.

    Maybe a compromise could be reached where at the five years after the work was created the company or organization could choose to pay back the tax money used on the project to keep hold of the rights for an additional five years, for a total of ten years. If the innovation or artistic work was making them enough money for it to be profitable to pay back what they used of the public’s money in exchange for owning control of it for another 5 years, they could. If it wouldn’t be profitable for them to buy out the tax-payer’s investment, the work would go into the public domain. That way the works that are more of a purely scholarly/artistic nature and of very little commercial value would be freed up very quickly. Works that are more profitable would still be freed up somewhat quickly, but would at least have the public’s investment in them re-paid.

  40. A timely post as the copyright consultations come to a close. I fully agree with keeping public radio (including podcasts) free for all non-commercial use, including distribution and remixing.
    …”C” is for canada and for creative commons?

  41. Just to play devil’s advocate, I know a lot of CBC shows use music, is it possible that the shows could not be released because they could violate copyright on the music or other materials used in the show? I mean in this case, the CBC is protecting itself from lawsuits, I’d think it’d be better not to have my tax dollars spent on defending against those lawsuits. I believe this is why early episodes of Age of Persuasion were never released.

  42. When I was doing a placement for a post-graduate degree in library management, I did a placement in a hospital library.

    I have to admit to being more than a little irritated by the costs involved in acquiring licenses for the journals used by the library which were essential for both students and doctors/consultants. It seems that the publication of an article in a journal doesn’t result in renumeration for the writer (of course as an academic/doctor you are paid by the state in the UK) but the subscriptions are extremely expensive. Not only that, but they are sold in bundles – it not always being clear that all the material was required by the hospital. I accept that there is some cost in the initial production of the material – more so if there is also a physical subscription (which, if I recall, you have to take if you want the online) but the fantastic costs of essential material seem to me to be creating a bit of a racket.

    Then, the library and its users have to be extremely careful about how the material is re-used…although I’d need to double-check the specific restrictions…

    Anyway, point is:

    Doctor/academic – paid by the state (research part of their job). But a private company restricts access to this material?

    Dosen’t seem right to me.

    Hey, maybe medial reporting might be full of less crapola if the information were free’d up a little.

  43. back in February there were Arts groups wanting new rules for Internet content from the CRTC ( which was wrong headed in that it would have treated the Internet like Broadcast.

    Better to great that Canadian Content (start with old CBC and NFB content) on the net (not but with web adverting links to pay for higher quality downloads, and flood the internet with Can Con.

  44. Canadiana all but lost,

    Littlest Hobo (occasionally still shown)
    Timothy Pilgrim
    Read All About It
    Secret Railroad
    Danger Bay
    Guerre du Tuques (Dog Who Stopped the War)

    …and those are just my holy grails of kids’ programming!

    But Quebec is better than English Canada, with Quebecor’s websites selling this stuff, literature and video alike. They actually do sell Guerre du Tuques, and so much more from the Canadian back catalogue!

    Print on demand means that ‘out of print’ is meaningless. Slowly the CBC and NFB are learning, and really it’s not unrealistic to have an employee or two whose only job is to digitize the back catalogue. It’ll take a while, but the media is there doing nothing now.

    All we need is an end to the situation where we can’t get this stuff for love *or* money!


  45. I for one, am a socialist so debating this in our current political system is pointless.

    I am sorry that under the current system one has the right to do whatever they want with their own property as long as they aren’t harming someone.. keeping you from a show you like is not harming you or society.

    one’s rights to property owned by others, especially when said other is not making it available in any capacity, is a highly debated issue among the internet generations.

    classic games without publishers became known collectively as Abandonware and was seen as a moraly just thing to scavange, even when the companies who sat on the programs released the lawyers on abandonware sites. That model has now been expanded into today’s robin hood way of life.

    the majority of the planet has been either forced or convinced that capitalism is the way to go, so to have so many act either as kind socialists or greedy thieves is to throw a monkey wrench into the entire way of operating for 99% of this planet.

    to quote the band consolidated, or to state the obvious:

    Capitalism Has Failed.

    I just wish it would stop taking so long for its last breath to wheeze out.

  46. Das Memsen writes:
    The idea of a chair is an idea. The specific design of a $3000 chair sitting in a Soho boutique is also an idea. Neither can be owned, regardless of what we tell ourselves.

    Oh, I’m sorry, I thought we were talking about practical solutions, not philosophy uncoupled from any notion of current reality.

    Your point above is, in fact, not correct, since of course if you were to directly copy either the specific design of a chair, or the physical object itself, you would be sued and you would lose.

    But seeing as we go here: And then let’s get back to the idea that we don’t own the land we sleep on or the air we breathe or any other false notion we’ve cleverly invented for ourselves. …I guess the solution to Jesse’s copyright conundrum re: his work being available is just the tip of the iceberg.

    What we’re really talking about is the end of private property, and the abolishment of our current system of law.

    I’m glad we kept the discussion focused and on track, and didn’t go off on a tangent like so much discussion on the internet.

  47. Like I said, I realize that in the short-term practical reality, we can’t all of a sudden switch to such a radically different way of thinking without some growing pains, which most people aren’t interested in going through- so fine, baby steps is on today’s menu. But we still need to be aware of the direction we should be heading in with all legislation. That’s what makes this statement relevant, and not merely some high-minded theoretical nonsense. Jesse’s plan is a good first step towards this goal, but it’s a pointless one if we don’t first agree on what the goal is. Otherwise, even if he got his proposal turned into law, it would just be revoked at a later date by some other party with different interests, due to the fact that we haven’t, as a global culture, come to the conclusion about the whole concept of idea-ownership.

    The different suggestions being given are all interesting and valid points. But without a philosophical backbone to support them, we’re a bit aimless in our battle, no? To me, that’s the real heart of Jesse’s conundrum.

  48. Publicly funded projects should be available – at least to the people who funded it – free of charge.
    That would mean in this case, any Canadian citizen. (This approach would probably be workable only inside the borders of Canada.)
    Of course, the creative, production, and the execs who actually produce the project will need some incentive, meaning decent money. In theory, the original funding should pay decent rates, but often the creatives and execs will want some residual action, and of course any project that is “rare” or “unreleased” is, in theory, more “marketable”. (Often such projects are kept in demand only because few people have actually seen them. Case in point – Andy Warhol films, which are pretty much kept in museums because they cannot be marketed to the general public, who would declare them boring as hell.)
    Some kind of low-res posting online might be the answer, like pre-HD Youtube: fine for research or preview, but not really good enough to bootleg or distribute further.

  49. The one that really gets me is the building code – it’s essentially a law that we’re expected to follow, but we’re not allowed to read it for free – it costs hundreds of dollars to know what you’re not allowed to do. And yet you can still be forced to tear down and rebuild a structure you’ve made, for not magically knowing the contents of an expensive and jealously guarded document.

  50. the best part of building codes being they are written for banks so they can be sure to flog off your foreclosed home in a market where they control the cookie-cutter stamp. Screw efficiency and creativity when you can use “safety” as an excuse to guarantee mediocrity. And mediocrity is what bankers do best.

  51. I am a creative type. I work in a creative field. I create lots of things. I don’t see why I should be getting residual money from now till when I die for something I did 30 years ago. I mean, it’s a great idea for my wallet, but I just don’t see any reason why this should necessarily be a given. I wish people valued art a lot more than they do, but valued it with their minds, not their wallets. People will still create, even if they’re not paid to do so, and in many cases, create better things precisely because money isn’t part of the picture. I know we can debate that statement forever, but the point is, the assumption that everyone should be getting residuals from their work forever more is bogus, and there’s plenty of practical real-world scenarios where that belief just ends up preventing things from getting done and being seen.

  52. #36 das memsen: I’m not sure how you can look at Brazil and Terry Gilliam and somehow not conclude that there is a very strong connection between the two, well beyond Terry Gilliam simply being the first to capitalize on the idea.

    But that’s not the question at hand. The question at hand, is if Brazil were funded by the government, should the government then make the copyright less restrictive?

    One possibility I’d personally want to float would be a mechanical license. Each publicly funded work will need to be identified as such with a copyright notice and a unique ID, and any Canadian citizen can legally make a copy of the work by sending a central agency a small fee and the ID of the work being copied.

  53. I hope you sent this into the Copyright Consultation? We all got an extension until tomorrow night (tuesday) midnight!

  54. Public domain, no. The commercial rights should remain with the creator. However a non-commercial creative commons license after 5 years would be more than fair.

  55. How about a more narrow point? Should publicly funded things be available for free outside of the country they were funded by?

    Being public domain in Canada and patented everywhere else might work for Canada – especially considering its size vs. other countries.

  56. Let’s make a law that says that government owned institutions like the CBC and Radio-Canada must make their content (the one they produce, that is) available for free after 5 years. That leaves them the choice to make it available from their websites and still keep some control OR, if they judge it’s not worth the expense (as most of the content probably will), grant the right to distribute this content, either by putting the content in the public domain or distributing it with a licence like creative commons.

    How does that sound ?

  57. I honestly cannot think of a reason why not. What does the CBC have to lose? They’ve already paid for the content and it’s not like they’re using it to cater to an exclusive paying audience. If anything, it will encourage people to pick up regular CBC broadcasting. The archives are a part of our national heritage, we pay for it in taxes, we should have complete access to it. Perhaps they wouldn’t have to drop the rights completely, but they do have a obligation to make it publicly available.

  58. I’d agree with the CBC because it is a public broadcaster so the work is effectively owned by the Canadian people. But not Telefilm.

    Telefilm is different because it was created for the purpose of helping commercial films in Canada become successful.

    By the way, the US Government-owned news agency Voice of America releases all of their stuff into the public domain.

  59. When is someone gonna set up a video-sharing website in a country that has no respect for western copyright. How about Thailand? Piracy is rife over there because the authorities dont give a flying f about piracy of western products. Try to find illegal Thai releases and you will have no hope.

    That, or just keep upping the eps everytime you get a takedown request. Just up them with abstract titles and no description, then send the links only to people who request them. The thing people seem to forget is that there are way more users on the net than moderators – meaning that it is easier for us to keep things online, than it is for them to delete them.

    It’s hardly an ideal solution, and doesnt address the underlying questions posed by your post, but instead of trying to change things the hard (and probably costly) way, I think we should just work to illustrate the futility of companies who try to maintain their iron grip on intellectual property (that they didnt even create).

    Imagine the frustration of the corporate schmoe who spends days trying to get content removed from youtube, only to have 10 versions of the same video upped the very next day. Until we demonstrate that they can’t control everything, they will continue to believe they can.

  60. “You would never suggest that we own the MPs’ houses because they could pay for them with our tax-dollars.”

    No, and I wouldn’t suggest that I own the artist’s house that they paid for with the money they earned on the project, but I do think that the work produced by both the MP and the artist might be considered to be the property of the public.

    Or if not the property of the public, at least they should be able to watch if for free after a reasonable amount of time.

    There is probably millions of hours of media that will never again see the light of day (most of it for the better) unless something changes.

  61. I may be out to lunch here, but I thought there were some loopholes in Canadian copyright law around broadcasts and blank media…

    I thought that once something was broadcast on air, and you recorded it, the recording was OK to distribute to some degree (not for profit). You can’t distribute originals, but you can distribute off the air recordings.

    I also think it’s unchallanged, but the Canadian blank media levy implies that you have already paid for the right to copy any CanCon you like, since you’ve already paid the recording industry.

    Maybe the powers that be have nixed these already…

    Any clarification on this?

  62. It seems to me the crux of the issue is a lack of availability of publicly-funded works (this has been mentioned in a number of previous comments as well).

    [Note that I’m coming from a radio-centric music-licensing background here]

    What if the mechanical rights — that is, the government-granted monopoly to reproduce a work — were to expire after a short period (say, 5 years)? [Commenter RRH#57 touched on this]

    A creator would retain all other copyright-granted rights, such as the right to create derivative works, etc.

    I’m first-in-line for dramatic copyright reform, but this seems like a resonable intermediate step that works within the existing copyright framework.

    If a creator receives public funding for all or part of a creative work, then the Canadian public should be guaranteed access to that work, though not necessarily the blanket rights to it that Public Domain would grant.

  63. Here’s a twist: does Canada have something like the US Freedom of Information Act? If some info belongs to the government, it can’t legally be hidden from the public.

  64. The only area this is fuzzy for me is as it pertains to artists who accept public dollars to do their work. For example, the Canada Council for the Arts funds writers, visual artists, musicians, etc., all from public dollars to write novels, write or perform music and create visual art. None of these artists are making a profit from their creation – they are simply being given the means and time to create. In order to actually make money, they need to be able to sell the fruits of their labour – their books, their plays, their performances and their paintings, despite the fact that the act of creating them was publicly funded.

    The CBC falls outside of this and yes, I totally agree that their work should fall within the public domain.

  65. Isn’t the real question whether the CBC as a Crown Corporation should exist at all? Once this is debated, then the rational for protecting the copyright of product produced by it is easily answered.

    The CBC exists to ensure Canadian perspectives are adaquately covered in media. Why does this mean it’s content should be free? Nothing else is, why should it? “Part” of its funding (70%)comes from the public purse, but not all. And, the part that does, typically (although there are some exceptions) goes into the creation of programming that is put on the air to sell advertising. If this becomes freely available, then this entire concept is lost.

    That being said, perhaps the content could be made available through advertising support under a different distribution model? Then consumers (or anyone else who wants it) can view content along with supporting advertising.

    So, in my opinion, first decide the purpose of the CBC and then determine how its content should be managed. But, remember, nothing is “free”.

  66. 1. publicly funded means it belongs to the public.
    2. No Author of a work should be required to not show his work. It saddens me to no end that a writer, singer, teacher, creator, can make something so amazing and important, only to not be allowed to share it with anyone.
    3. 5 years is way too short, it may take 8-10 just to turn a profit.
    4. BUT, once it has turned a profit the artist should be able to show, display, personally market and distribute/sell, teach, sing, play, make, etc. any thing they themselves have done. Because lets face it, whats better? Letting an older great show of knowledge or beauty sit on a shelf to be shown yearly(not at all), or to keep that information flowing with the creators helping to keep interest in it for years to come?
    5. Of course like any situation there are times when none of this should apply and the content should clearly be completely public property regardless of supposed ownership, and there are times when no matter who funded it, it should be kept off the air or even played monthly.

    Do we really need to live in a world where a singer/songwriter is thrown in jail and fined if he plays his own works for money or even for free?

  67. @#3, Jfrancis:

    as a student of the fraught media relationship between the US and Canada, all i can say is: hahahaha!

    yeah, all those Canadian dramas are just flooding the American airwaves, aren’t they? i’m sure you guys all watch The Border, and Metropia, right?

    as if. we don’t even watch that stuff in Canada.

    now, American productions filmed in Canada is another story.

    also, in response to the OP: I’ve thought this for a long time. another wacky idea I’ve pondered is that all Canadian homes that are wired for cable should have free access to CBC, even if they don’t have a cable subscription.

  68. As a researcher in computer science that is publically funded and working in Sweden, this is a issue that is close to my heart. In Sweden there is a special exemption for researchers that give all the IP-rights of the research to the individual researchers, with the idea that the researchers are the ones most motivated to create new companies.

    We use this great freedom to put the by-products of our research work (a software library) into an open source product with the MIT license for maximum flexibility. This allows everybody to benefit from the work we put in, and has been a great boon in the research as well since we have real, live users to help us keep the research real and relevant.

  69. As producer & co-writer of CBC Radio’s The Age of Persuasion, I can confirm what the anonymous writer of 14 September has said; some shows like ours contain copyright material which CBC can rightfully broadcast, but which it has no right to podcast or distribute on CD. Use of movie clips or copyright music, for instance, would have to be negotiated with the rights-holder on a case by case basis.

    Unlike The Contrarians, though, we chose not to ‘sell’ our show, but rather to license CBC to broadcast/stream it, for a term of two years. The AOP brand remains ours.

    It is exactly because we want to share our ideas- and, forgive us, to make a living- that we chose this route. It left us free to write our book for Knopf, to speak to groups under the Age of Persuasion banner, and to spread our brand without requiring anyone’s permission.

    I can speak for our corner of the Corp- the ideas on our show are wholeheartedly shared. The right to make a living from them, we respectfully reserve.

  70. #70 adralien: Currently the CPCC pays out the levy money to record companies, song writers and music performers. So the levy may only cover music.

    On HeyWriterBoy’s blog, he floated the proposal to extend the levy to fund TV and movies, and apply the levy not just to recording media, but also to the ISPs, on the basis that the only people who are guaranteed to make money off free content are the people selling access to that content.

    #71 RadioGuy: I’m not sure where you’re going with this. You’re suggesting the government have the sole rights for five years, and what then? Do the creators then retain sole rights or are all Canadians granted a mechanical right to copy the work?

  71. I never once thought about it that way and you are totally right. This article opened my eyes. I agree that after a certain time, it should be at least accessible, if not in the open domain.

  72. until the cbc is funded properly (something for which i’m not holding my breath while the cpc sits on the gov’t benches), a small fee to keep the whole corporation going is a necessity, unfortunately.
    i agree with the point jesse’s making in principle (media developed with public money should have come with public access at some point after the value of its exclusivity for ad sales purposes has been all but exhausted -another unfortunate necessity for the cbc), but is this really the issue on which we are willing to suggest fighting the cbc? follow it to its logical conclusion. providing the material for free at the time of broadcast robs the cbc of its ability to use the material to generate much-needed revenue afterwards.
    let’s keep our priorities in order. the whole network needs to be sustained for us to even have this discussion. the cbc needs more support and money for its overall operating budget before we get carried away about individual corporate policies at the cbc that don’t reflect the nature and spirit of public ownership.
    -nick in halifax

  73. @rrh #80

    I’m not sure where you’re going with this. You’re suggesting the government have the sole rights for five years, and what then? Do the creators then retain sole rights or are all Canadians granted a mechanical right to copy the work?

    I guess I wasn’t clear.

    You’re suggesting the government have the sole rights for five years

    Not exactly. I’m not suggesting any changes to the current situation for the first 5 years (ie: if it is a creator-owned work, it would remain so; if it is a government-owned work it would remain so).

    After some “reasonable exclusivity period” (in this running example I’ve been saying 5 years), then all Canadians should be granted a (nonexclusive, perpetual) mechanical right to copy the work.

  74. It’s a great idea – but when you start to add up all the rights holders involved in even a simple show, can you imagine the number of CBC Committee hours it would take to sort out a deal ?

    The thing is, it’s not co-op radio – it’s high end PAID broadcasting involving unionized talent, staffers and technicians. Everyone’s so busy protecting their rights (which they should) that the material never sees the light of day. The archive of music alone, exclusive music recorded over decades, is marketable (thanks to a download piecemeal world). But it’s lost because no-one can agree on how to share any profits that might ensue.

    For all sorts of good reasons, none of the parties trust the other, so it’s impossible to come up with any agreement.

    The irony of course is that even though public funds that go into the creation of these shows, the public can’t access them because the rights holders are ‘protecting’ their interests to the point that the material is simply mothballed.

    Meanwhile, 13 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute.

  75. In terms of artists aided by Canadian Arts Council grants we must keep in mind the mission of the grant. For example, an artist may be awarded a grant to be specifically used for the transportation of pre-existing artwork to a gallery where it will be exhibited. Regional art galleries do not typically require an admittance fee and so the general public would be able to view the artwork without the work itself entering the public domain. However, I would say that both public and artist would benefit from digital representations of the work being freely distributed. Ideally this would increase the public’s exposure to art while raising the artist’s status.

    Interesting to note in Canada is that both the artist and the gallery may receive public funding, but a public gallery must always pay the artist an ‘artist fee’. This artist fee (instituted by CARFAC…look it up) is essentially a copyright payment to the artist that allows the gallery to exhibit the work. If publicly funded works entered the public domain immediately this could be detrimental to the livelihood of the artist.

    A Canadian Art Council grant is meant to facilitate the development of art and culture in Canada, therefore an approach to the issue that proves beneficial for users, producers, and exhibitors of that culture must be used.

    I would suggest that an artist aided by public funding should retain the exhibition rights of his artwork but (as I stated earlier) digital documentation of the work should be in the public domain.

  76. I’m amazed that nobody seems to be able to, at the very least, create some sort of “burn-on-demand” service for people to order programs as and when. The various involved parties get their cut, the content gets out to the people who want it, that should settle it, right?

  77. i completely agree.
    if the public is funding a certain organization then the public should have rights to access information provided my it.
    and whats the big deal any way. whats the harm of publishing the material. if anything it could be a marketing plan; teaming up with itunes to sell the shows would be much more affective for the company then keeping the shows locked up.

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