Meera Nair

Creating creativity

In Posts on February 13, 2011 at 4:22 pm

In 2006 Professor Ruth Towse posed an interesting question: How do we create creativity?* She asked the question in light of the heightened attention by national governments to creative industries. Policy makers insisted that creativity offers economic gain on a national scale, and thus it was imperative to foster creative behaviour. As Professor Towse observed then, and still holds true today, “what is meant by creativity is not clear and it is far from clear how it can be encouraged by government policies.”

Copyright is deemed to be an incentive for creative effort because it appears to facilitate trade of creative effort. And so, when speaking of creativity, advocates of copyright expansion focus almost exclusively on the financial implications of the mechanism of copyright. Reading through the transcripts of the ongoing legislative meetings for Bill C-32, a constant theme is the amount of money that can be gained or may be lost through copyright. As to how those numbers are arrived at, the transcripts do not explain.

In any event, we need not argue: copyright does bring income to some people, some of the time. But the division of income is not evenly distributed between creator and publisher, or between domestic industries and international conglomerates, or the homegrown superstar as compared to the homegrown neophyte. Those distinctions have less to do with copyright and more to do with education, training, exposure, bargaining power, sheer luck, and that ill-defined term: creativity.

In the absence of a clear understanding of what creativity is, perhaps the policy objective of creating creativity can only be approached inversely. What deters creativity is the next best question. Lack of capital is a factor. But seen from this perspective it may be easier to recognize other factors. Access to past work is important and building upon past work is necessary. Yet fear is a palpable concern (as noted in my last post.)

To give creative endeavor more shelter I proposed making fair dealing illustrative. But if we must remain locked into enumerated categories of fair dealing Professor Graham Reynolds convincingly argues that a further category be added: a protection for those who engage in transformative work. In his chapter, “Towards a Right to Engage in the Fair Transformative Use of Copyright-Protected Expression,” in From “Radical Extremism” to “Balanced Copyright…” (free download available here) he indicates that Canada would not be the first country to take such a step, and, he stresses the importance of ensuring that the anti-circumvention provisions of Bill C-32 do not render such a right null and void.

Professor Reynolds reviews some of fair dealing case law where the defendants lost. Describing the rationale for those court decisions, he shows that there is good reason to believe that transformative works could be well received in Canadian courtrooms today, if the work can meet the first requirement of category of use.

Another interesting case concerning transformative use, and a success story at that, is Allen v. Toronto Star Newspapers Ltd. It marked a moment of discontinuity in fair dealing’s twentieth century ill fortunes; the outcome diverged from the tendency to subordinate fair dealing to copyright owners’ interests and was a much-needed reminder of the collaborative and transformative nature of creative effort.

* Ruth Towse. “Copyright and Creativity: An Application of Cultural Economics,” Review of Economic Research on Copyright Issues, 2006, vol. 3(2), pp. 83-91.

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Michael Geist, Russell McOrmond. Russell McOrmond said: RT @mgeist: Meera Nair on Creating Creativity – why C-32 needs a new exception for transformative uses http://bit.ly/i4X1eH […]

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