CBC totally fails to explain why it expects Canadians to get permission to use public media

This week's Search Engine podcast from TVOntario's Jesse Brown features an interview with the head spokesman for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, brought on to explain why the publicly funded broadcaster has signed on with iCopyright, an American licensing agency that aims to collect a monthly fee from any Canadian business that excerpts CBC media on its blog. Additionally, the CBC says that it requires anyone who wants to noncommercially excerpt the nation's public media for discussion, archiving, criticism, etc, must first get written permission from the Corporation (and be prepared to have permission rescinded at any time).

Suffice it to say, the CBC's spokesman does not cover himself in glory. He alternately claims that he must deny permission to Canadian bloggers because the CBC doesn't want to be inconsistent, then, in the next breath, says that the Corporation gives its media for free to YouTube even though it's not consistent, because they're still "feeling their way." And he doesn't even know that the CBC's partner is offering a $1,000,000 bounty for Canadians who rat each other out for using public media without permission.

If I'd been in Jesse's shoes, I would have asked this: The CBC wants to act like a business instead of a public service entity, right? Well, in that case, why don't you act like a business: we, the taxpaying public, were the angel investors for the CBC for a century or so. If you want to bring in another investor at this stage -- a commercial partner to sell licenses for the media we financed -- why the hell should we accept having our equity diluted down to zero? Shouldn't we continue to get our annuity -- in the form of free access and use of the media we paid for -- before you start to deliver value to these late-stage investors?

Podcast #36: The CBC's Antisocial Media


  1. Oh my, that’s bad CBC news we get here.

    I live too far from the country to have had hints of the problem before, and I can’t even really guess the size of the unpopularity of CBC’s decision. But it looks like a real shame.

    The main reason for me is that I nearly always listen to CBC3 via their website because what they broadcast (the home of independent Canadian music, as they say) is one of the most pleasant audio stream I have found.

    It is the Arcade Fire who took me to CBC, if I remember well.

    Ironically (and naturally tragically) I started a You Tube favorite’s of mine called “I heard it on CBC radio”. I just did this two days ago. See this video by Jim Guthrie: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e2AGqDGMCjw

    Well I guess that I now have to delete the playlist and change the title to something else. Very disappointing day.

    1. Wuss, you have to make sure you let the CBC know why you’re doing this.

      A better question to ask the CBC:
      When you’re at a Canadian national museum you can take pictures of any exhibit that is part of the permanent collection, since, as a taxpayers, you own it. Since CBC Radio is totally funded by Canadian taxpayers, don’t we also own the content produced by the CBC?

      A related question: If CBC Radio really is strapped for cash, why are they spending money on DRM?

  2. Does this mean that they are going after the people who embed youtube videos (uploaded by CBC) in their blogs?

  3. Doesn’t surprise me. They’re called a “corporation” for a reason.

    Just because the government sponsored them doesn’t they’re looking out for the public. They’re looking out for no 1 first.

    It’s a pretty good gig because an actual angel investor could just pull out, but the only way the government will pull out of the CBC is if overnment officials stop wanting access to the press (unlikely) or the Canadian people vote in a candidate who will pledge to pull out of the CBC and follow thru when he or she is in office.

  4. Please don’t adopt the “be commercial” language, even rhetorically. The whole idea is so bizarrely upside-down and inside-out, and it’s exactly why we’re seeing this sort of wrong-headed attempt to monetize the CBC. This idea must be countered, not adopted.

  5. It is the end of a short era. We are lucky to see it. My great uncle, Edward J. Neil (second to die in the line of duty for AP, Pulitzer Honorable Mention) would be so heart-broken over what has happened to “news”

    The Internet has changed things unlike any other medium, with (perhaps) the exception of the printing press.

    Lets see if they can keep up.

  6. Their mandate under Parliament is that they are to provide service to as many Canadians as possible. When you use CBC materials, it’s not copyright violation, it’s helping fulfill their mandate. Subtle but important difference. It’s in the Broadcasting Act.

  7. Thanks for reporting this, Cory.
    I’m just shaking my head.

    I think Jian Ghomeshi should talk about this on his show – after all, Q is concerned with “cultural issues that matter to Canadians,” according to the Q website. I’d say this definitely qualifies. Jian?

  8. Jesse was way too easy on the Spin Guy. Listening to the conversation/interview/chat was quite frustrating.


  9. The CBC is in a difficult position:

    1. Most Canadians love the CBC.
    2. Most Canadians don’t actually like to watch or listen to the CBC.

    1. Most Canadians don’t want to see the CBC privatized, because they love it so much.
    2. Not enough Canadians bother to actually watch or listen to the CBC in order for the CBC to sell advertising, nor to demand increased federal funding, to survive in the future.

    Thus, the CBC is just kind of stumbling around, confused, desperately trying to find a 21st century way to fund an early 20th century model of state media.the i

  10. CBC Radio/CBC in general is NOT totally funded by tax payers. The Ceeb gets a substantial government grant, but it’s not nearly enough to cover the costs associated with the programming on CBC-TV, Radio One, Radio 2 and Radio 3, as well as other web projects, so there are advertising dollars collected through CBC-TV and CBC’s online portals (which generate a small pittance). The $ amount per canadian that goes to the CBC is considerably smaller than the $ amount per Brit that goes to the BBC, and smaller than most other major public broadcasters. The government funding amount has stayed the same for years, with little regard to inflation and increased services. Last year the corp even had to lay off a fudge ton of people, and left most others fearing for their jobs.

    It was a spooky time…

    For the record, I don’t agree with the Ceeb’s decision to sign on with iCopyright. As someone who may or may not work at the Mothercorp, I can say you probably don’t have to worry about any big collection notices if you post something on your blog. The signing with iCopyright was largely done so that when other news agencies call to use the Ceeb’s stories, someone actually answers the phone instead of ignoring it due to a lack of resources.

  11. Cory,

    Thank you SO MUCH for saying what should be painfully obvious to everyone:

    The Canadian public has an ownership stake in the CBC. For them to treat their owners like criminals is outright intolerable.

    For years, the liberal-minded Canadian nationalist population has been fighting to keep the CBC from being privatized further. With this latest development, why should we bother?

  12. Hm … what the CBC flak SHOULD have said is that the content the CBC creates is the property of the shareholders, and if it’s being excerpted outside of fair use, the shareholders, ie the corporation, need to be compensated. The shareholders of Disney don’t get to reproduce Disney films — they get a share of Disney’s profits.

    In fact, I think the CBC’s argument holds up better than Cory’s. Because while the CBC is publicly owned, if you translate that into granting ownership of copyright to all Canadians, you end up with a very messy investment scheme indeed. Canadians who reproduce or excerpt CBCs materials would then benefit from their investment, as taxpayers, while people who don’t would not.

    The only way to fairly redistribute the profits made from licencing excerpts from CBC content is to feed the profits back into the corporation itself — which is what’s happening. Presumably any licencing fees paid to the CBC would be kept by the CBC (in the same way Disney keeps the profits from its own content, investing it back into the company, which causes the value of their stock to rise). That might be oversimplifying, but if the CBC obtains revenue from licencing its copyrighted materials, and invests that revenue back into the CBC, then the CBC — which is owned by all Canadians — can be said to *fairly* distribute the revenue between its investors.

    If investment in a corporation equals total ownership of copyright, you get into a legal morass. Can I, as a Canadian, burn and sell DVDs of CBC shows? Can I aggregate their website articles on my ad-supported blog? And how do you prevent people of other nationalities — who have NOT supported the CBC through taxes — from excerpting these materials by posing as Canadians?

    It ultimately boils down to fair use. Limited excerpting or linking on a blog is fair use. But the CBC should and does have a legal right to protect its copyright from infringement, even infringement by Canadians. If we allow CBC copyright to be infringed, it actually bilks the Canadian taxpayer out of their rightful revenue — and that is the real crime against the taxpayer, not disallowing all Canadians to infringe at will.

    1. Tonic: Your arguments are all from a very corporate-centric place. If the Canadian public were truly shareholders in the strictest sense, then the CBC would have the requisite number of owners to be required to report as a public company. We would all get proxy cards in the mail to elect its directors and officers. We only direct the CBC THROUGH our elected government, so the relationship is more complicated than that.

      “Can I, as a Canadian, burn and sell DVDs of CBC shows?”

      Are all CBC shows soley-owned content of CBC? The obvious answer to both questions is no.

      I’m willing to agree with the importance of protecting the CBC’s IP, to a degree. But if I excerpt a paragraph from a CBC article to summarize it, then link back to the CBC (giving them new traffic and extra ad revenue), why should I be prosecuted?

      Being a CBC-supporting taxpayer doesn’t neccessarily give me carte-blanche over the CBC’s content, but it should give me a degree of fair use. Calling in American brute-squads is not an approach which endears me to further supporting the CBC.

      1. I think we agree completely. This whole argument is not about whether or not CBC has a right to protect its IP, it’s about what constitutes fair use (and I would argue excerpting in non-profit blog falls under fair use), and the draconian lengths it should go to in order to protect what doesn’t fall under fair use.

        My objection was that while that’s the real argument, it was framed in terms of the CBC being a giant co-op with every Canadian a shareholder, and as you say, it’s not that simple. It’s disingenous to argue that Canadians are the copyright holders of the CBCs content. It’s the CBCs IP, and the CBC should (*within reason*) protect its IP, to protect the investment of the twice-displaced owners: us. That doesn’t mean losing all sense of perspective and issuing take-down notices or suing people for C&Ping a paragraph here and there.

        1. My apologies if I misinterpreted your tone.

          I think your last statement hits the nail: there is a loss of perspective when the “brute squad” is called to persecute bloggers. The CBC has been very internet-friendly up until now. Let’s hope that they see the light and keep on the hip and narrow path.

  13. Just a heads-up. Canada doesn’t have “fair-use,” we have “fair dealing” which has several subtle but important differences. Fair Dealing has two basic parts: Purpose, and Fairness. There are essentially three permitted purposes that allow you to reproduce a part of a protected work: 1. Private Research 2. Criticism 3. News. Passing the permitted purposes check is not carte blanche to copy though – even for permitted purposes the copying must be “Fair.”

    Determination of “fairness” is much less cut and dry than determining purpose but one of the things that determine whether the copying is “fair” is whether the copy reproduces a “substantial” portion of the protected work. The substantial-ness of the portion is determined in standard quantitative, but also qualitative means. Copying the “good bits” can be substantial no matter how short they are.

    Also, Canada doesn’t have a notice/takedown system in place from what I understand, we don’t even have a notice/notice system (though C61 proposed one & the WIPO treaties – signed but not ratified – obligate us to have some formal structure in place).

    Having said all that, I am appalled at the CBC’s decision.

  14. I just sent the following to the CBC and urge you to do similar (steal my words freely):

    I was surprised the other day when I was pulled away from listening to CBC Radio for a meeting and found that the only way I could continue to listen to the half-show I missed was to buy it from iTunes. After a little investigating, I was even more surprised that there are a number of shows that are on CBC that I had to pay to listen to, if I did not happen to be listening at the time.

    The reason for my surprise, of course, is that I as a Canadian taxpayer have already paid for those shows with the taxes that help keep CBC operating. I was even more surprised to investigate a little more and find that due to not-quite-kosher agreements with American copyright lawyers and bureaucrats that CBC appears to be selling out what we rightfully paid for.

    I’ve always been a huge supporter and avid listener of the CBC. This is like a member of my family cheating me. Please stop this and follow the examples of BBC, NASA, and other publicly funded organizations by providing for free what has already been paid for, to the people who paid for it.

    This statement I found was appropriate, posted by another online: “When you’re at a Canadian national museum you can take pictures of any exhibit that is part of the permanent collection, since, as a taxpayers, you own it. Since CBC Radio is totally funded by Canadian taxpayers, don’t we also own the content produced by the CBC?”

    Thanks for your time, I would appreciate a response, personally and via the best communication tool Canada has: a free and publicly funded CBC.

  15. Mr Doctorow, you have a gift for reminding us of things that really should be obvious… but somehow aren’t for most of us. Thanks for the heads-up on this one.

  16. Dear CBC, stop acting like jerks and embrace new media for real. Does CBC pay everyone fairly for using their likeness? No they dont, I know first hand they dont. Oh what is going to happen now… ordinary Canadians are going to get sued for mentioning the CBC.

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