For the London Free Press – January 28, 2008
At the end of 2007 the Canadian government stood poised to introduce a new copyright law that many feared would amount to a sell-out to the demands of lobbyists and the United States government.
While the issue was largely ignored by traditional media, word began to spread online, primarily through two relatively new sources of information: blogs and Facebook.
The feared changes would affect the rights of large numbers of Canadians who utilize copyrighted materials in numerous ways.
Word of the potential changes was initially spread via blogs, one of the most vocal critics being University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist. The initial warnings from various blogs increased awareness among online users. The blogs also provided information on ways to fight the contemplated legislation and kept readers up to date on new developments.
On Dec. 1, Prof. Geist founded a Facebook group called Fair Copyright for Canada in an attempt to spread awareness. Within two weeks the group had over 20,000 members.
The remarkable growth of the group had two immediate effects. The first was an increase in awareness of the issues. The second, while not as direct, was more far-reaching. The rapid growth of the Facebook group became a news story in itself, exposing the issues to a significantly larger segment of the population. The story initially focused on the use of the social networking site as a political tool. But the story also focused on the message as well as the medium.
Suddenly the potential change to copyright law was a major news story.
Then something remarkable happened. On Dec. 13, 2007, the government decided to delay the introduction of the legislation. There is hope the government decided to modify the legislation in the face of this unexpected groundswell of grassroots opposition. Some fear, however, that the government has only delayed in the hopes that interest in the issue will die down.
If the latter is true, that hope is unlikely to be fulfilled. The group continues to grow, membership now sits at about 40,000.
In addition to raising awareness, Facebook has proved to be a useful tool for organizing efforts to oppose the legislation. The Fair Copyright for Canada group has spawned a number of local chapters across the country. t has provided a forum for individuals to come together with others who share their concerns and led to several organized local events including educational opportunities and meetings with local MPs.
The groundswell of opposition is not without its critics. Some question how many, and to what extent, those who oppose the changes and join the group truly understand the issues at hand.
While not everybody who stands opposed fully understands the issues, the same is true of nearly any cause that engenders significant numbers of supporters. What can’t be denied is the effectiveness of the use of blogs and Facebook in bringing this issue to the attention of large numbers of Canadians, and its effect on the political process.