Bring in a B-52 for the C-32

Frits Pannekoek has written a clear and well-argued indictment of the (ludicrous) C-32 bill that is currently going through the Canadian parliament. The proposed legislation is evil. It’s not just about laws that remove rights we have enjoyed for centuries, though that is bad enough. It’s about laws that take away some of our future rights to achieve all we can achieve and to become a better society.

 In 1492 Johannes Trithemius, Abbot of Spondheim, launched an impassioned attack on printing because of the harm it did to scribes (his attack was, of course, printed). Once upon a time publishers, like the scribes, provided a public good that greatly benefited society, but it was a good that was contingent on the technology that was available. DRM is an absurd skeuomorph that seeks to create artificial scarcity out of inherently nonrival resources, to the detriment of society. It is technologically naive as the genie is trivial to unleash (and cannot be contained by one nation’s misguided laws) and so it only hurts those who would be honest and law-abiding in the first place. 

I don’t think it’s just about defending traditional rights, though those are indeed under threat by greedy corporations that see new opportunities to control supply like never before. This is about fundamental gains in opportunities for us to grow as a society and a species being squashed by ignorance and habits of mind based on past (but now fictitious) scarcity.

Bearing that in mind and, given that our core goal must be to increase knowledge in society, perhaps we at higher educational institutions now have a moral and practical obligation to eschew any DRM’d content while opening all of our content to the world. In an age of ubiquitous information, our value is in offering a community of scholars and a process that helps people to learn.  When universities began it was as a means for students to learn from and with great thinkers, not to consume content, so this is not a radical suggestion. Far from it, it is very much about a return to traditional values. 

I am a professional learner, employed as a Full Professor and Associate Dean, Learning & Assessment, at Athabasca University, where I research lots of things broadly in the area of learning and technology, and I teach mainly in the School of Computing & Information Systems. I am a proud Canadian, though I was born in the UK. I am married, with two grown-up children, and three growing-up grandchildren. We all live in beautiful Vancouver.

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