Video for nothing, pics for free
It’s an alarming wake-up call: apparently, there are plans for the federal Conservatives to hide dramatic new political powers in their next omnibus bill, powers that will be deftly hidden in amongst reams of budgetary languages and sub-clauses. Such bills make it impossible to even debate their myriad of legal changes — there simply isn’t enough time in the House of Commons to do more than skim the surface.
Some of the powers? Well, if you live on a busy intersection, the Tories plan an amendment to allow them to annex small portions of your property for free to allow them to place high-visibility campaign signs. Another clause will require landlords to provide “complimentary” rentals for campaign offices. And you’d better hope you’re not a sandwich or pizza shop owner: the new laws will require takeout restaurants to provide campaign workers with that all-important free late-night meal.
Actually, none of that is true.
But it doesn’t mean the federal Conservatives aren’t planning to use omnibus legislation to make it legal to steal.
Last week, the CBC obtained a Power Point document that looked at changes to Canada’s copyright law — changes that “would allow free use of ‘news’ content in political advertisements intended to promote or oppose a politician or political party, or a position on a related issue.” In other words, the Tories want to take news clips and use them in attack ads, without the nasty problem of having to obtain the material from its owners.
Because it is material that is owned: networks and news organizations spend a great deal of money and resources actually attending public events.
The Conservatives argue that they need the ability to use the clips to keep politics honest. To me, that sounds a little like an adolescent arguing they should be able to download any kind of content for free because they, well, just don’t feel like paying for it.
If the Conservatives want accesss to video clips shot by others, well, they shouldn’t be able to legislate themselves a free pass. If they want to staff public events with their own video crews, looking for that precious soundbite — something that’s almost guaranteed to knock anything like the remaining humanity out of politics — they’re welcome to do so. At their own cost. (A not-so-well-known fact? The Conserva- tives already control photography of their own leader to stop any potentially embarrassing photos. Conservative staff photographers take pictures of the prime minister at public events, and are guaranteed the best photo positions: police and security officials move media photographers further away behind cordons. Imagine: using a national police force for the political goal of managing the prime minister’s image. That sure must make you proud to be an RCMP officer.)
All the media is saying is that, if you want to use our product, gathered at our expense, then you have to pay our price and play by our rules.
The Conservatives might recognize that as, I don’t know, running a business.
Russell Wangersky is TC Media’s Atlantic Regional columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com; his column appears on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays in TC Media’s daily papers.