BLOGSCANNING by Robert Janelle

Janelle-92X185Flip.jpgThe group went viral, spreading around the country at an incredible speed.

Facebook gathers opponents to sidetrack copyright rewrite
From SCAN's Print Edition

In late December, Industry Minister Jim Prentice was expected to table revised Canadian copyright legislation to deal with copyright in a digital age. Essentially, it was to be a Canadian equivalent of the American Digital Millennium Copyright Act, passed in 1998.
But something happened on the way to the House of Commons and the bill was delayed until at least the end of this month. Specifically, University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist happened.
For months Mr. Geist has been public about his reservations concerning the new copyright act on his blog [www.michaelgeist.ca], listing the potential harm such a bill could do to regular consumers.

Several examples he’s given of consumer activity that could potentially be criminalized by the bill include ripping music from a legally purchased CD to put it on an MP3 player, using the time-shifting ability offered by some cable receivers to watch television shows at a later time and putting legally obtained software on a cell phone or PDA. He’s also stated concerns about the possible erosion of fair use, which protects the right to parody and criticize copyrighted works.

As December approached and the tabling of the bill seemed inevitable, Mr. Geist mobilized what can be described as a classic grassroots movement brought into the digital age.He updated a September post where he listed 30 things readers could do to make their voices heard on the issue, which was picked up by many other bloggers. He made a video version of the list and posted it on the massive video-sharing site YouTube, giving it further exposure.

Having his concerns online also helped bring the issue to traditional print and broadcast media (along with Mr. Geist writing about the topic himself as a columnist for the Ottawa Citizen and Toronto Star.)
But the coup-de-grace came when he took advantage of one of the world’s biggest social media platforms: Facebook.

He created a group called Fair Copyright for Canada and sent out a few invites. The group went viral, spreading around the country at an incredible speed. In fact, even with my modest friends list, I’d received invites to the group within 24 hours of its creation.

Within a week, the group had 10,000 members joining the virtual petition. By the time the bill was to be tabled it had 25,000 members and at the time of this writing it had more than 30,000.

Within the pages of the group, members have discussed and debated the issue and posted their letters to Members of Parliament, along with responses they’ve received. The momentum led some supporters to bring the issue to Mr. Prentice in person when he held an open house at his Calgary riding office.

It’s interesting to see that a grassroots movement that ran almost entirely through blogs and other social media had a direct impact on public policy.

However, Mr. Geist has stated repeatedly since the copyright bill’s delay that this success probably couldn’t be repeated with too many issues. In this case, he targeted tech-savvy consumers through their preferred medium with an issue that directly affected them, since new copyright laws could also affect what can be posted on blogs and social networking sites.

There was also the unobtrusive nature of the movement. Rather than bombarding people with spam-like e-mails that were more akin to chain letters, supporters received at most, a single line of text inviting them to join a group.
Whether you agree with Mr. Geist and his supporters, or like Financial Post columnist Terence Corcoran you view them as “Telecom Trotskyites,” he’s shown us something important: there’s far more to social media than just seeing who can build the biggest list of “friends” and poking them.

Bob Janelle is a freelance journalist who has plied his trade at the Citizen and Kingston’s Whig-Standard. A bilingual grad of Algonquin’s J-School, where he won awards for both writing and photography, he is a self-confessed video game addict.

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