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Michael Geist’s covert ties to Amazon

[This post has been updated]

The debate surrounding Amazon’s planned Canadian expansion has produced many arguments both for (the editorial boards at The Globe and Mail and National Post) and against (the Canadian Booksellers Association, the Association of Canadian Publishers). While such polarized opinions are to be expected, one of the most surprising voices to come out in support of Amazon is copyright activist and University of Ottawa academic Michael Geist, known for his anti-corporate stance on many copyright issues in the digital age.

In Monday’s Toronto Star, Geist went after the Canadian Booksellers Association, arguing that the “CBA’s attempt to cloak the issue as a matter of Canadian culture is unsurprising, but [Heritage Minister James] Moore should recognize this for what it is “ a transparent attempt to hamstring a tough competitor that ultimately hurts the Canadian culture sector.” Geist went on to suggest that Amazon’s (theoretically) unlimited selection of books is a good thing for Canadian culture and that the “scarcity of space in brick-and-mortar stores has long been a key concern for Canadian authors and publishers, who fear that their titles might get squeezed off the shelves.”

In the wake of Geist’s op-ed, U.S. blogger Christian L. Castle, described on his blog as a Los Angeles“based journalist, has unearthed ties between Amazon and an Internet think tank headed co-created by Geist:

First of all, it should not be overlooked that Geist’s U.S.-backed Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic, the Alcan of IP with its almost 100% American board, “was established in 2003 with the aid of a start-up grant from an Amazon.com Cy Pres fund, received by Prof. Michael Geist.” Now I’m sure that Geist would deny that he personally received any money, but if that’s true, they might want to revise that sentence on the SG-CIPPIC website.

It’s entirely possible that Geist, in his ignorance of book retailing and the publishing sector, truly believes that independent booksellers are a threat to Canadian culture. If that’s the case, however, he should have been above-board about his past dealings with Amazon.

[Update] Michael Geist responds: “The Amazon grant was money that came via a court order through a class action settlement. It was used to establish the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic in 2003. Being part of a Cy Pres Fund, Amazon did not oversee or make the award. A court did. There is no conflict and nothing hidden. In fact, look back at my earlier columns criticizing them for the Kindle to see how much influence they have over what I say. None.”