A Saul-om look at copyright

Well-known novelist, essayist, activist and philosopher John Ralston Saul showed off his public speaking skills at the University of Calgary Thu., Aug. 3.

In his speech, “From Birds of Prey to the Collapse of Globalism,” Saul discussed the impact of globalism on copyright both from the perspective of a writer and a political philosopher. Saul questioned the effects of copyright on free speech and discussed the debate between users of copyrighted materials and the artists who create them.

Saul did not entirely defend copyright, even as an author who has earned his living from royalties since 1977.

“Even a writer who gets the occasional royalty cheque doesn’t really believe in the fundamental importance of copyright,” said Saul. “It’s not the meaning of life, it’s about commerce, it’s about control, it’s about limiting freedom of speech.”

Arguing from a political perspective Saul also discussed the implications copyright can have on freedom of speech.

“It’s actually about most people’s right to hear new ideas,” he said. “The speaking and hearing are of equal importance.”

While freedom of speech is included in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Saul pointed out that copyright protection is not.

“The ownership of information and language is not a fundamental right,” said Saul. “The receiving of royalties shouldn’t in any way interfere with freedom of speech.”

Saul went on to say that issues of copyright and freedom affect everyone.

“We believe it’s okay to have our freedom of speech taken away, that there’s nothing you can do about it,” he said, noting that media and corporations are increasingly becoming one and the same.

Saul argued that independent media should play a larger role in the era of media conglomerates.

“There’s no reason you can’t go out and start other magazines and newspapers,” he said, encouraging people to invest in “competing voices.”

When asked about his thoughts on copyright in an academic context, such as copying materials for the classroom, Saul cautioned that he was not an expert, but offered a few observations.

“I’d be loath to see students $25,000 in debt pay for that,” he said. “The universities have the money. We also shouldn’t rip off an author who isn’t tenured and is making a poverty wage. It’s different than a pharmaceutical company.”

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