Michael Geist Interview

Michael Geist’s interpretation of a recent study on how downloading affects the music bussiness caused quite some controversy. Geist concluded from the study that filesharing does not hurt the record industry. P2Pnet interviewed Geist, they discuss several p2p related issues and it seems that Geist is a fan of BitTorrent.

Dr Michael Geist has become a power in Canada and much further afield when it comes to matters centering on Net issues in particular, and free speech and the freedom of the Net in general.

Born and raised in Toronto and the proud father of “three great kids” (7, 5, and 2), he’s the University of Ottawa’s Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law, a position he’s held since 2003. Before going to U of O seven years ago, he was at a long list of law schools including Columbia Law School in New York, Dalhouse Law School in Halifax, Canada, Cambridge University in England, and Kobe University in Japan, where he was doing graduate work and some teaching.

His editorial output is prolific. He produces numerous professional publications and writes for Canada’s Toronto Star and Ottawa Citizen, and England’s BBC, and p2pnet is proud to regularly run his columns. He’s also on the director and advisory boards of several internet and IT law organizations including the Canadian Internet Registration Authority, the dot-ca administrative agency, the Canadian IT Law Association, and Watchfire.

The former chair of a global Internet jurisdiction project for the American Bar Association and International Chamber of Commerce, Geist is regularly quoted in the national and international media on internet law issues and has appeared before government committees on e-commerce policy.

Obviously, with a work-load such as that and three lively children, he doesn’t have much in the way of free time but when he does, he’s a big sports fan who, although he’s an Ottawa Senators season ticket holder, is also a “a die-hard Toronto Maple Leafs hockey fan”. And when he gets the chance, he takes in “a fair amount of music” on his iPod, “in addition to a growing list of podcasts.”

One of his favourite bands is Green Day, and he’s also a Springsteen fan.

“I really like Pandora for listening to new stuff,” he says. “I buy music on Apple iTunes and also download occasional stuff. Frankly, most of my P2P downloading tends to be torrents of video files of recent lectures or other video content.”

BitTorrent is his application of choice for downloads.

Do you think Canada will ever be in the same situation as the US where even young children will become CRIA (Canadian Recording Industry Association of America) victims? – we asked him in the Q&A below.

“I hope not,” he says.

p2pnet: You’ve become a virtual spokesman for copyright common sense not only in Canada, but in other parts of the world. Is this something you deliberately set out to achieve?

Geist: No, not at all. My focus has traditionally been on Internet issues and I’m very active on privacy, spam, Internet governance issues. The growing attention to copyright merely reflects its critical importance to the Internet and to creativity and culture more generally.

p2pnet: Does the role sit well with you?

Geist: I think there are a lot of people who do great work in this area. I’m fortunate to have some platforms to speak out and educate – such as a regular newspaper column and my blog. These are issues that have not gained significant awareness in the past and I’m happy to help change that.

p2pnet: How much real influence do you think the entertainment and software industries have over decisions made in Ottawa and elsewhere?

Geist: Enormous influence – they’re clearly one of, if not the single most successful lobbying concern worldwide as their influence extends internationally, nationally, and even at the local levels. In Ottawa, I think that policy makers are genuinely interested in hearing all perspectives. Once their work turns into a bill, however, we’ll see the power of the lobby come to the fore.

p2pnet: Do you think they have undue influence? If so, should it be curbed, and can it be?

Geist: They certainly have far more resources than any other stakeholder group. I think it is essential that other stakeholders – particularly those who represent the public interest – receive active support so that their views are heard.

In the US, there are many groups (EFF, CDT, Public Knowledge, ACLU, EPIC, IP Justice, etc) that work in the area.

We don’t have nearly that kind of support in Canada as I think CIPPIC, the public interest technology law clinic that I helped establish at the University of Ottawa, is one of the only similar groups in Canada.

p2pnet: Is it acceptable for elected politicians to accept benefits from the entertainment and software industries, and to so obviously (and actively) represent their interests against those of their constituents?

Geist: No. That issue sat at the heart of my very public fight with former MP Sarmite Bulte. These are tough issues and I think it is critical that the process be both fair and seen to be fair. When you have MPs in decision making positions, they shouldn’t be seen to be aligning themselves with any single stakeholder group. It was for that reason that I proposed the copyright pledge. It didn’t say that politicians couldn’t take money from lobby groups – only that they couldn’t take the cash and then directly influence policy by sitting as Minister, Parliamentary Secretary, or on the relevant House of Commons committee.

p2pnet: Have you ever been approached to work with, or for, any of the entertainment or software companies?

Geist: I talk with many groups and companies all the time. While we may disagree on certain issues, the complexity of copyright is such that your opponent on one issue, may be your ally on another.

p2pnet: Are you able to sit down and have a reasoned, and reasonable, discussion on copyright and other related issues with the people who make the corporate decisions?

Geist: I am. There are some people who don’t want to talk, but they’re in the minority.

p2pnet: Is it acceptable for the purely commercial labels, studios and software houses to so easily use, and be an integral part of, police and other agency raids and enforcement operations the industries themselves usually initiate?

Geist: I think true commercial piracy – the sort where commercial operations churn out infringing software or DVDs for sale and profit – is obviously wrong and the law should be used to stop such activities.

p2pnet: Is copyright ‘crime’ a crime at all?

Geist: I think it’s fair to say that the commercial piracy described above is a crime. I don’t think that the non-commercial copying that we see on P2P networks falls into that category, however.

p2pnet: Would you agree that if the software and entertainment companies were to use p2p technologies for handling and distribution, a reduction both in counterfeiting and duplicating and in costs associated with physical product would follow?

Geist: I think P2P represents a tremendous commercial opportunity for those groups. I think it has the potential to reduce distribution costs. I’m not sure that it would have an impact on commercial counterfeiting.

p2pnet: Should the cartels be allowed to have a definite presence in schools and universities via their so-called ‘educational’ programs?

Geist: I think it’s up to the schools to ensure that their students gain a balanced perspective on these issues. Educators wouldn’t tolerate commercial messaging in other areas and shouldn’t here either.

It’s essential that educators take that role seriously by educating their students on the full range of copyright issues including their user rights to use works without prior permission.

p2pnet: Do you believe people who share files with each other online are ‘thieves’ and ‘criminals’ as the CRIA, et al, claim?

Geist: No.

p2pnet: Is file sharing really “devastating” (to quote the CRIA claim) the music industry and its various elements ?

Geist: I don’t believe so. I’m sure it has some impact, but it’s hard to know precisely what that impact is as there’s some evidence that the impact is positive, not negative.

Regardless, the decline in sales that the major labels have experienced in recent years is almost certainly about a host of issues that have little to do with P2P, including more consumer entertainment choices, pricing, changes in the retail distribution of music, the decline of radio, and the releases being brought to market.

p2pnet: Do you think the wholesale price of between 60 and 80 cents for a single Big Four digital file is fair?

Geist: I don’t know. In an open market, the market would set the price. Obviously people like NY Attorney General Eliot Spitzer are skeptical that the market is truly functioning appropriately without unlawful and anti-competitive interference.

p2pnet: Does a download equal a lost sale?

Geist: No. I don’t think anybody would argue that it does. Even the Copyright Board of Canada has valued a downloaded song as a lesser value that the CD version for purposes of the private copying levy.

p2pnet: Are file sharers and counterfeiters equally and jointly responsible for entertainmment and software industry downturns, as the CRIA and other trade-cum-PR units suggest repeatedly?

Geist: I don’t think file sharers and counterfeiters should be equated – there is a significant difference between the two.

As for industry downturns, I’m not sure that those industries are making those claims. For example, the video game software industry is enjoying enormous growth, while the movie industry is experiencing terrific revenues from DVD sales and other new licensing opportunities.

p2pnet: Should parents he held responsible under the law for something their children may, or may not, have done?

Geist: Well, certainly not for something their children didn’t do.

The better question is whether we should hold anyone liable to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages for P2P activity. I think not – statutory damages provisions should be amended to address this misuse of the law.

p2pnet: Do you agree that blogs and bloggers are replacing the traditional media as disseminators of news and information?

Geist: I’m not sure they’re replacing traditional media, but they are obviously having an enormous impact on the dissemination of news, opinion, and information. I think blogs often provide more timely, more informed analysis that you will find in the mainstream media and thus either replace or complement MSM coverage.

I also think that we’re seeing a growing convergence between the two – newspapers are starting to look a lot like blogs – take the redesign of the Globe and Mail as an example.

p2pnet: Do you think they’re having, or will have, an influence on what the labels, studios and software makers do?

Geist: I think bloggers are having an influence on all aspects of society, including public policy and corporate decision making.

p2pnet: Do you think Canada will ever be in the same situation as the US where even young children will become CRIA victims?

Geist: I hope not.

I’m hopeful that Canada can develop a model that benefits all stakeholders and does not resort to damaging litigation that serves no one’s best interests.



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