Astroturfing (v.): An artificially-manufactured political movement designed to give the appearance of grass roots activism. Campaigns & Elections magazine defined astroturf as a “grassroots program that involves the instant manufacturing of public support for a point of view in which either uninformed activists are recruited or means of deception are used to recruit them.” Unlike natural grassroots campaigns which are people-rich and money-poor, an astroturf campaign tends to be the opposiite, well-funded but with little actual support from voters.
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Michael Geist, MichaelGeist.ca
June 16, 2010
The copyright lobby, almost certainly led by the Canadian Recording Industry Association, has launched a major astroturf campaign in which it hopes to enlist company employees to register their support for Bill C-32 and to criticize articles or comments that take issue with elements of the proposed legislation. The effort, which even includes paid placement of headlines on Bourque.com, is still shrouded in some secrecy. A member list, which featured many record company executives, has now disappeared from public view. Requests to identify who is behind the site have been stonewalled thus far, with both ACTRA and AFM Canada explicitly stating they are not part of the site (this is no surprise since most creator groups have been critical of C-32).
The heart of the site (which requires full registration) is a daily action item page that encourages users to “make a difference, everyday.” Today’s list of 10 items is a mix of suggested tweets, blog comments, and newspaper article feedback. Each items includes instructions for what should be done and quick link to the target site. For example, users are asked to respond on Twitter to re-tweets of an op-ed by Dalhousie law professor Graham Reynolds. The suggested response is “As an employee in entertainment, this Bill will protect your livelihood” or “The discussion around DRMs is largely fear mongering.” Other suggested twitter activity includes twittering in support of James Moore and his comment that the Chamber of Commerce represents the best interests of consumers or to start following MPs on Twitter (in the hope they will follow back and later see astroturfed tweets).
The site also encourages posting comments on a wide range of articles and interviews. For example, users are encouraged to comment on a Torontoist article on C-32 with the following points:
- The article completely overstates the expected prevalence of DRMs
- DRMs have faded quickly from the music industry- why would producers/artists hide their work?
- There are a whole list of exceptions in the Bill, none of which Michael Geist and his Bit Torrent followers acknowledge
A Calgary Herald op-ed on the concerns with C-32 generates the following suggested response:
- Artists, other content creators, and the people who invest in them deserve a law that protects their work from theft and unauthorized use on the Internet;
- Canada has become a global destination of choice for the operators of pirate websites;
- Bill C-32 is a good first step in creating balanced copyright laws for Canada;
There are suggested responses to audio interviews as well. For an interview CRIA’s Graham Henderson did on CBC Radio, users are encouraged to “listen to the interview, share it with your friends on Facebook, link to it on your Twitter account and post a comment in the comment section underneath the audio file.” As for Industry Minister Tony Clement’s interview on Search Engine, users are encouraged to post comments on the TVO site stating:
- TPMs are used to help creators of digital content — books, games, movies, software and music — to protect their creations from unauthorized copying;
- TPMs also enable innovative new digital offerings that give consumers more choice in how they buy digital content;
- For about $10 a month, music fans can access literally millions of songs on streaming music services. But they don’t own the songs;
- Other fans prefer TPM-free a la carte downloads for about $10 an album. Without TPMs, it simply would not be possible to offer new choices to consumers;
- The measures in Bill C-32, the government’s copyright reform legislation, add a measure of legal protection against breaking “digital locks.” Without these provisions, digital content would effectively lose all protection, and innovative digital offerings would disappear. The creators of music, books, games, movies, and software — and their investors — would be left high and dry.
All of these are just today’s instructions, with new activities promised on a daily basis. This secret astroturf effort is unlikely to fool many people, but it is worth monitoring and serves as a useful reminder that Canadians seeking fair copyright in Canada will need to ensure that their voices are heard and not drowned out by this organized, shadowy campaign.
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