Every time a government wants to dodge addressing an issue, it spews a bunch of kak about “balance.” For instance, the need for humanity to “balance” its desire to consume far more than is necessary with the imperative not to shit in its own nest.
Or, say, the need to “balance” the greedy-guts desire of libraries, governments, and corporations for free access to the work of writers (flouting centuries of copyright law) with the much more real need of writers to enjoy the fruits of their labour, just like any other property owner. There was a lot of the latter sort of kak in the response, issued late last month by Canadian Heritage Minister Bev Oda, to the recent Senate report on Canadian news media
Now I have to admit that I have a personal stake (aka vendetta) related to these issues. First of all, as a disabled yet highly talented and ambitious single parent of far too many kids, a career in freelance writing was a godsend until about 15 years ago. Before technology made a habit of stealing for everybody in the developed world, a writer like me could sell a freelance piece to a magazine or newspaper in Canada for between $100 and $3,000 bucks, depending on who was buying. Even though the rate of pay often sucked, I was able to recycle most pieces into a different market and get maybe 75 or 50 per cent of the original sale. Then, if the piece was really good or had lasting interest, I would be able to sell it into an anthology. I was like the owner of an apartment building: each piece was an apartment that I was willing to invest a lot in because I could bank on getting more than the first month’s rent. Plus, the property remained mine to do with what I wished.
Then digital technology made replicating easy, and magazines and newspapers started stealing. Where I used to sell a piece as many as 16 times across Canada, newspapers in particular decided to go ahead and publish the same piece 16 times, in all the newspapers in the chain, but pay me only once. My writerly pals across Canada and I objected, won a few court cases, and forced the newspapers (aka media congolmerates) to go legit. Their response was to insist that any freelance writer who sold a piece to them also sold the rights for the media conglomerate to use that piece any which way, in any newspaper, radio piece, TV spot, that it felt like. Writers kept copyright, but the coyright didn’t mean squat. It was like saying to an apartment owner: you can keep the apartment, absolutely. It is completly yours to do with as you wish . . . except we will be living in it as long as we want and will not pay you a dime.
A lot of us senior writers refused to sign the contracts, but there were still plenty of people eager to see their names in print, and quality stopped being an issue (at least for the corporations). We lost. Most of us quit. We found other things to do (that, incidentally, pay much better, even though I had to put my kids in completely unlicensed day care and god knows what happened to them there).
The result: Canada’s information is now created by people who work for large corporations. There is a name for them: staff writer. They are worthy of respect because they do their best in a beastly, cynical business. There is also a name, however, for freelancers who sign those contracts: scab. I have scabs in my acquaintance and they have no idea why I mock them openly, although I have told them explicitly of their crime against one of the most vital supports to democracy. They are too stupid and venal to care (which is characteristic of scabs).
Meanwhile, our public libraries, those pillars of democracy, are equally stupid and venal. They want the right to copy writers’ property, one time for each patron. Sounds harmless enough, until you remember that there are 30 million Canadians. Is it too much to ask that the writer be paid a dime — or, hell, just a penny — for each copy? Could you pay a penny for a copy of a magazine article you wanted to share? Apparently you cannot. Apparently libraries feel that they do not need to pay to use writers’ property (although they seem more than willing to pay their electricians, their plumbers, the gas bill, the staff, the guy who empties the garbage. But the people who create the stuff that makes the whole enterprise worth doing in the first place . . . nah).
Do they talk about “balancing” the need to keep the doors open with the need to pay all these other people? Nah. Only when they talk about the copyright of writers.
Let us now speak of outcomes. Read a Canadian newspaper lately? Need I say more? Read a Canadian general interest magazine lately? I bet not. The reason is that they are all shit.
Personally, I write this column for no money because nobody can, legally at least, steal it. Yet. The moment it becomes legal to use this column without my permission is the moment you will see my fat ass walking out the door. And if you are a librarian or a teacher and make copies of this blog without asking me, I will hunt you down and you will be very freaking sorry.
Notice the lack of “balance” in the previous statement. Now, imagine if governent began acting just as aggressively. Imagine that statement being delivered, not only to media corporations and libraries, but to energy companies, pulp mills, vehicle manufacturers, and all other lousy polluters. “Here is the new law. Follow it or we will hunt you down and you will be very freaking sorry.”
That is the environmental policy I want, nationally and provincially, for myself and for my children. And hey, I live in Alberta. Sure there’s an energy boom here, but as far as I can see all it’s doing is making a few folks very rich and causing a huge cost of living surge for the rest of us. And you can bet that the rich folks will end upliving on a moutaintop come the day that Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal are finally underwater. Heads up, folks. Literally. Unless you want to be blub blub, screw “balance.” Tell your MLAs and MPs to open a can of whupass.
In other news, the American-led geniuses hanged Saddam Hussein this morning, against my advice. Not only is the execution barbaric, monumentally hypocritical, and a heinous moral crime, but it has energized the insurgents for at least 10 years worth of passionate fighting in the memory of a martyr. Within a very few hours, 60 people were killed n a retaliatory bomb blast. No surprises there.