You may have laughed when you discovered my title is “OttawaJazzScene.ca publisher and dishwasher” on my business card or email signature. I’ve often joked that one of those roles is about spending money and the other is about making it.
My “dishwasher” role includes everything from transcribing some of Alayne’s telephone interviews so she can convert them into interesting stories (challenging when the interview subject is talking on a poor cellphone connection), to server security updates and backups and tech upgrades, to photography, and video story production, to… actual dishwashing.
It was even more ‘interesting’ wearing my hats this week. I had 48 hours to find legal publishing advice for what we could afford: $0.
On Monday, the Ottawa Jazz Festival requested, politely enough to be sure, that we unpublish their most recent annual report’s financial statement that we included in our news story about their meeting last month. We included it because it explained details of their $200,000 loss this year more clearly than writing so many numbers in prose. It added veracity to what was reported about their financial state. (There is a link to this story at the end.)
The Editor and I included this financial statement in the story only after careful consideration of Section 29.2 of the Copyright Act. It permits copying for news reporting if the source is attributed, which we always do. There is an important journalistic requirement for the publication to be in the public interest. The Ottawa Jazz Festival is a charity and receives a great deal of public funding, therefore reporting about its major financial issues and use of public funds is in the public interest.
So how did we respond to the festival’s takedown request?
Firstly, OttawaJazzScene.ca follows ethics and publishing guidelines of the Canadian Association of Journalists. Once we publish any story, be it news, an interview, or review we don't take it down or revise it because someone dislikes it and asks us to do so, or because we have second thoughts. It's like live music. Once the note has been played, there's no undo. However we always promptly and gladly correct any true error, with a note in the story about the change.
I was very fortunate to quickly contact and receive helpful comments at no cost from two lawyers: one at a top Ottawa legal firm, and another who is an award-winning journalist and author who was recently called to the Bar. (I run the listserv for Canadian journalists as a volunteer, and this helped me reach out.)
The two lawyers gave me well-explained – but significantly different – opinions on the ever-thorny copyright issue of “Fair dealing”: How much copying is too much copying? How much is it necessary to copy? (It's a similar issue when deciding how much of a music recording can be used by another artist and in what circumstances without copyright infringement).
Lawyers will give you advice, but it’s clearly up to you to make the final call. And I had not hired them and could not afford to hire them nor count on their generosity for a bigger battle.
But we had to decide what was the best reporting.
Do we hold firm on our story’s inclusion of the festival’s financial statement and ignore the takedown request - with possible unaffordable legal costs even if we are right? Or do we unpublish a report that any of 600 volunteers, or festival donors, or any member of the public who walked into that annual meeting at city hall could obtain a copy of?
We removed the Ottawa Jazz Festival’s 2018 financial statement from our story by their deadline of 12:33 Wednesday. If you didn’t read the article we originally published on November 21, you’re out of time.
(You may request your own copy of the festival's 16-page annual report if you donated to the festival or are a volunteer there. Please let me know the response you receive.)
Our reluctant deletion of the financial statement resolved the uncertain risk over defending our Fair Dealing copying under the the Copyright law.That might not be resolved outside a courtroom and could waste a great deal of time, effort, and certainly money that OttawaJazzScene.ca doesn't have.
However we did not stop reporting pertinent facts.
I created a new, original analysis and presentation using the festival’s most relevant financial numbers. I dropped contributing but less important expenses that were not significant in this year’s $200K loss that they attributed to lower ticket sales. For example, the festival’s souvenir tent loses money almost every year (what’s going on with that?) but it’s still relatively small and wasn’t the target of blame for the large loss this year.
My presentation is original and is in no way a copy. It conveys key information to the public better than the original. The festival’s report lists annual figures in reverse chronological order. I listed them oldest to newest as an ordinary time series. Many of you are used to reading a musical score left to right (but here's an exception). The original report showed losses in a common accounting format: (loss), I used red ink to highlight the losses. The festival's statement (as it should) shows figures to the dollar. I rounded each number to the closest thousand dollars to simplify reading and allow easier comparisons. Most importantly, I added some calculated rows to better show percentage differences and trends. It was not insignificant work, but I believe helps us report the news clearly.
And here's what stands out in my new table: While the Ottawa Jazz Festival lost $200,000 this year, its box office revenue has been consistently down year-after-year. It is 38% less in 2018 compared to five years ago. This is not just a 2018 crisis arising from unfortunate hot weather and musicians canceling concerts.
Festival Executive Producer Catherine O’Grady has repeatedly defended that the non-jazz acts are what enable the Ottawa Jazz Festival to afford their jazz shows. Yet no specific financial statement or evidence that the non-jazz acts actually generate this supporting revenue has been publicly reported that I have seen. I believe there needs to be greater transparency in the festival's reporting, not single-sum line items that hide the type of music the festival actually risks spending money on, or loses money on.
The Ottawa Jazz Festival received $4.46 Million in public money (grants), plus charitable donations, from 2014-2018. That’s a lot of taxpayers' money. That is why it is in the public interest that OttawaJazzScene.ca reports about the Ottawa Jazz Festival annual meeting every year and continues to do so. We’ve been the only news publisher to consistently do this.
Here’s a link to our Jazz Festival story with the new table so you can read it for yourself: Fewer shows, fewer days at the 2019 Ottawa Jazz Festival. You can find links to the wonderful, good, bad, and ugly at the Ottawa Jazz Festival at the bottom of the article if you missed our reviews, previews, interviews, and news stories earlier. This includes links to our reporting about past annual meetings. Different issues have come up over the years which we have reported about.
OttawaJazzScene.ca will continue to provide the jazz public and you with independent news reporting that upholds high standards of journalism and news publishing. It's not always easy. If you have already donated in our annual reader funding campaign, thank you for supporting this.