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Tagged: levy

The Songwriters Association of Canada Wants To Embrace File Sharing, But Does It Have the Right Approach?

This post originally appeared on Techdirt.

in 2007, the Songwriters Association of Canada gained some international headlines with a proposal to legalize non-commercial peer-to-peer file sharing through an ISP levy. This sort of proposal wasn’t new, but had not been so prominently put forth by an artist organization before. There were serious problems with the proposal, but it stimulated a healthy debate and it started from many correct premises — that file sharing should be embraced, that digital locks and lawsuits were not a way forward, etc. But it was a non-voluntary, “you’re a criminal” tax that could open the floodgates for other industries to demand similar levies.

I was a member of the Songwriters Association of Canada from 2007-2011, and I had the opportunity to express my concerns about the proposal to many people involved. Last year, I attended a session with an update on the proposal, and was surprised how much it had changed. The proposal had dropped the legislative angle in favor of a business to business approach, with an actual opt-out option for both creators and customers of participating ISPs. Unlike groups behind other licensing proposals, the SAC has actually been responsive to many concerns, and unlike other artist groups, the SAC takes a decidedly positive view on sharing music and the opportunities technology provides to creators. This attitude comes through in the proposal:

Rather than a legislative approach to the monetization of music file-sharing as we originally envisioned, the S.A.C. is now focused on a “business to business” model that requires no new legislation be enacted in Canada.

Our basic belief however remains the same: Music file-sharing is a vibrant, open, global distribution system for music of all kinds, and presents a tremendous opportunity to both creators and rights-holders. […]

People have always shared music and always will. The music we share defines who we are, and who our friends and peers are. The importance of music in the fabric of our own culture, as well as those around the world, is inextricably bound to the experience of sharing. [emphasis changed]

As the copyright debate heats up again in Canada in light of SOPA and new pressures on pending legislation, this positive attitude towards peer-to-peer file sharing was expressed again in a recent TorrentFreak interview with the SAC VP, Jean-Robert Bisaillon:

We think the practice [of file-sharing] is great and unstoppable. This is why we want to establish a regime that allows everyone to keep on doing it without stigmatizing the public and, instead, find a way for artists and rights holders to be fairly compensated for the music files that are being shared. […]

Other positive aspects include being able to find music that is not available in the commercial realm offer, finding a higher quality of digital files, being able to afford music even if you are poor and being able to discover new artists or recommend them to friends. […]

Music is much better off with the Web. The internet network allows for musical discovery despite distance and time of the day. It has sparked collaborations between musicians unimaginable before. It has helped artists to book international tours without expensive long-distances charges and postal delays we knew before. [emphasis added]

However, significant problems remain with the proposal. For example, the original criticism still stands as to how this would scale for other industries — what about book publishers, newspapers, movie studies, video game manufacturers and other industries that are also crying foul about “piracy”? The SAC dismisses other cultural industries pretty quickly, as if only the music industry is concerned about unauthorized copying. And, just like private copying levies have suffered from scope creep, as people no longer buy blank audio cassettes or CDs, or short-sightedness, as technology changes rapidly, it’s not clear how the SAC model would adapt to growing wireless and mobile computing or more distributed file sharing. Many more questions remain: Would small, independent artists, who are not charting through traditional means, get fair treatment? Is it wise to largely rely on a single, proprietary vendor, Big Champagne, for tracking all distribution? Would consumers be paying multiple times for music? What does it mean to “self-declare not to music file-share” in order to opt-out?

But the central problem with the proposal is the SAC’s copyright crutch. Jean-Robert Bisaillon says things like,

The Internet has dramatically increased the private non-commercial sharing of music, which we support. All that is missing a means to compensate music creators for this massive use of their work. [emphasis added]

And the proposal says things like,

Once a fair and reasonable monetization system is in place, all stakeholders including consumers and Internet service providers will benefit substantially. [emphasis added]

The SAC seems obsessed with a “monetization system,” when the truth is there is no one model, no magic bullet. Rather, the the sky is rising and the path to success involves all sorts of different models and creative approaches, most of which don’t depend on copyright or worrying about getting paid for every use. Even a voluntary license plan is still a bad idea. The means to compensate music creators isn’t missing, it’s just increasingly found outside of copyright.

Still, it’s important for the SAC’s voice to be heard as the copyright debate heats up again in Canada. As a creator group offering a positive take on peer-to-peer file sharing, and denouncing an “adversarial relationship” between creators and fans, they offer an important counterpoint to the SOPA-style provisions being pushed by Canadian record industry groups. I would take the SAC’s constructive and responsive approach over record industry astroturfing and fear mongering any day.

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Charlie Angus brings copyright reform back into the spotlight

This post originally appeared at RootsMusic.ca

NDP MP Charlie Angus
Credit: mgifford [CC BY-SA]

Last month, NDP MP (and former member of the Grievous Angels) Charlie Angus shook up Canada’s copyright debate by proposing two reforms. Angus was outspoken against the government’s last copyright bill, but he’s attracted criticism from all sides with this latest move. But that was basically his goal—more debate on copyright reform. For musicians and other copyright holders dealing with shifts in technology, this debate is a crucial one

Flexible Fair Dealing

Fair dealing permits the use of copyrighted works for certain purposes without permission. Currently, there are only five categories that qualify: research, private study, criticism, review, and news reporting. Noticeably absent are things like parody, sampling, time or format shifting, etc. However, the Supreme Court ruled that “[fair dealing] must not be interpreted restrictively” and introduced six factors to consider. Angus’ motion (M-105) would add the words “such as” to make the list of fair dealing categories illustrative rather than exhaustive, and it would put those six factors right into the act.

Flexible fair dealing has been called for by many groups, but others still characterize it as the “legalization of theft”. Nevermind that copyright infringement isn’t theft, but American law has long since had a similar principle in the doctrine of fair use—initially common law, but incorporated in the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, much like Angus proposes for Canada. Fair dealing/use isn’t “theft,” but part of the copyright bargain.

Flexible fair dealing would help to future-proof copyright law by accommodating new technologies, practices, and forms of expression. Fair dealing isn’t free dealing either, since the factual tests of fairness must still be met, but the worry expressed by creator groups is that it will affect royalties—hence, Angus’ other proposal.

Expanding the Levy

Angus’ private members’ bill (Bill C-499) would expand the levy on blank media (such as CDs) to include potentially any “audio recording device,” defined as:

a device that contains a permanently embedded data storage medium, including solid state or hard disk, designed, manufactured and advertised for the purpose of copying sound recordings, excluding any prescribed kind of recording device

Yet, dedicated digital audio players are quickly being replaced by multi-purpose mobile computers. Should the levy apply to iPhones as well as iPods? This definition could potentially include Blackberry, Android and even laptop or desktop computers as well. This has attracted criticism from many, including Industry Minister Tony Clement and Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore, the cabinet ministers responsible for copyright. Beyond the wide spectrum of devices, what about the variety of works? What about movies, TV shows, electronic books, and other copyrighted works that are increasingly available on electronic devices?

This reform is short-sighted. The initial levy proposed for digital audio players in 2002 (struck down by the courts—hence a bill to make it legal) was $21/GB, which would leave a 120 GB iPod (less than $300 today) with a $2520 tax. How much would this levy be, and how long until that amount becomes absurd? Of course, the levies could be lowered (though, the CD levy has increased…), but imagine how quickly legislators would adapt, compared to the effect on consumers, innovation, culture and the music business in the meantime.

The “Nuance-Free” Zone

Angus criticizes the Tories for living in a “nuance-free zone,” either being “tough on crime” (Bill C-61) or “fighting against taxes” (Moore’s comments on Bill C-499). Yet, Angus has his own two-dimensional approach to copyright. He claims,

“There are only two possible options for protecting artistic property: either you lock down and sue or you compensate.”

Angus seems to conflate two separate issues—fair dealing and remuneration. It’s as if he thinks that the levy would justify—even pay for—more flexible fair dealing. Fair dealing isn’t something to be purchased; the Supreme Court affirms it as a “user’s right.” Likewise, the compensation problem would still exist even if flexible fair dealing was already around (see: the U.S. and fair use). This isn’t about crime/tax reduction, but it isn’t about “compensation for access” either. It’s about adapting copyright law to a world where copying is the norm.

Business models based on selling and restricting copies are struggling because the Internet is a copying machine, while those who are successful aren’t relying on copyright. Leveraging technology and consumer behaviour is an alternative to litigation, locks and levies, and effective copyright reform should enable that. This bill would just set up toll booths on computers. An iTax won’t solve anyone’s problems.

What’s Next?

Private members’ bills rarely become law, and the Tories plan to table new copyright legislation this Spring. The levy expansion has been rejected by Clement and Moore, though they haven’t taken sides on flexible fair dealing. Angus wanted to kick-start the next round of conversation, and that he did. Now it’s the government’s turn.

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Canadian Copyright Expert On Levy Proposals: Today’s Quickie Legislative Solutions Are Tomorrow’s Absurdities

This post originally appeared on Techdirt.

Howard Knopf, a well known Canadian copyright expert, recently took a look at some of the failed copyright levy proposals in Canada. The Canadian Private Copying Collective (CPCC) administers the tax levy on blank CDs, which now accounts for almost 90% of the price. In 2002, similar proposals to extend the levy to DVDs and digital audio players were shot down. It’s a good thing they were! Knopf notes that the $2.27 levy proposed in 2002 is now about 10 times the retail price of a blank DVD, and the $21/GB levy proposed for digital audio players would have left a 120 GB iPod (<$300 CAD) with a $2520 tax. You might think the CPCC would have decreased the levies over time, but the blank CD levy was just increased this past December (blank CDs cost more in Canada than blank DVDs). Even if the levies were lowered, it would be because they had already become unbearable. Imagine the bureaucracy and battles at the Copyright Board, and imagine the effect on Canadian consumers, tech companies in the meantime (what if the Blackberry was classified as a digital audio device?).

The point is that these quick solutions aren’t solutions at all. Setting up “you’re a criminal” taxes to collect money for companies that can’t figure out how to adjust their business models is bound to block innovative new technologies, and you can’t predict what technologies will drive new business models. As Knopf puts it, “all of this shows that today’s quickie proposed legislative solutions and oft inflated tariff proposals to deal with supposedly serious crises arising from copyright and new technology are potentially tomorrows’ absurdities or even nightmares.

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Surprise, Surprise: Canadians Aren’t Interested In ISP Levies

This post originally appeared on Techdirt

Michael Geist points to two new polls released by Angus Reid Strategies, which show that Canadians are overwhelmingly against the idea of ISP levies. It should come as no surprise that 79% of people surveyed about the possible Canadian content levy on new media said it would be an “unnecessary and/or inappropriate fee that would end up being passed along to consumers.” In another survey on file sharing, 45% of people said that downloading music free of charge was just “what people should be able to do on the Internet,” while only 3% believed that downloaders are “criminals who should be punished by law.” 27% said that it’s something people shouldn’t be doing, but that “it’s not a big deal.” 73% of people thought that a music tax was “unnecessary and/or inappropriate” (which ought to disappoint a few Canadian creator groups calling for this sort of thing…).

The survey also found that those who download music are “often the most voracious music enthusiasts,” more likely to buy a CD in the next month (41% vs. 34% of non-file sharers) and more likely to have attended a concert in the past year (65% vs. 52%), which should, again, not surprise many people around here. This is just another bit of evidence that “piracy” is not a problem and, instead of pushing for ISPs to collect levies or act as copyright cops, musicians should focus on connecting with fans and giving them a reason to buy. Though, somehow, I don’t expect the whining to stop anytime soon…

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Canadian Blank CD Levy To Increase By Another 38%

This post originally appeared on Techdirt.

The Copyright Board of Canada has decided to increase the levy on blank CDs from 21 cents to 29 cents each. The levy is a sort of “you’re a criminal tax” that assumes blank CDs are going to be used for unauthorized copying. Blank CDs in Canada are now often more expensive than blank DVDs (which have no levy and hold more data), and most of that cost goes directly to the record industry. In 2006, about 70% went to the labels, but it seems like even more now, with actual price of CD-Rs dropping. With a 21 cent levy, a pack of 50 CD-Rs sells for about $12 before tax. That’s 24 cents per CD-R — 87.5% of the price goes to the record industry. And that’s before the 8 cent increase.

The board notes that sales of blank CDs are declining, but justifies the increase by arguing that compression allows people to store more songs on a CD. Meanwhile, there’s no levy on digital audio players (the Canadian record industry was worried it would legalize downloading and seemed to prefer to push for tougher copyright legislation instead). What’s going to happen when the Copyright Board realizes that blank CD sales are likely declining, not because everyone is using compression, but because less people are using CDs? This “you’re a criminal tax” has always been a short-term band-aid solution that’s not going to fix the record industry’s problem. Do Canadians really need to pay the record industry $30 million a year for the right to burn a few songs onto a CD every now and then? Luckily, the current government has expressed a desire to cancel the levy, though we’ll have to wait and see if they can follow through.

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