This post originally appeared on Techdirt.
Last Thursday, I attended the Canadian Copyright Consultation Toronto Town Hall (video). Despite the stated intention of soliciting a “breadth of perspectives,” the record industry dominated the event. Michael Geist described it as the “Toronto Music Industry Town Hall” and a local publication called it the “town hall that didn’t invite the town”. Tickets were limited and speakers chosen by lottery, yet half the speakers were from the entertainment industry — collection societies, record labels, industry lawyers. Twice as many industry representatives spoke as artists or creators. There was the odd librarian, student or programmer (and I had a chance to speak), but otherwise the participants seemed so skewed towards the same perspective that one person greeted the audience, “hello, music industry,” and some non-industry (though admittedly not very eloquent) speakers were heckled towards the end. When asked afterwards about the strong music industry presence, the Minister who ran the town hall joked, “I guess they had the night off.” There are lots of questions about the sincerity and efficacy of the consultations (though, also some indication that the government might take the time to try and get things right), but what was most disappointing, albeit least surprising, was what the entertainment industry actually had to say.
Most industry speakers presented emotional pleas, with little in the way of serious suggestions. They focused on a “right to get paid” and “fair compensation” (without talk of providing a reason to buy), while Canada was portrayed as a “lawless society,” rampant with property “theft” and hostile to “legitimate” business (despite evidence to the contrary). A writer stunningly declared that “[more flexible] fair dealing would be a disaster for creators,” while SOCAN claimed that adding “unwarranted” fair dealing provisions would be asking creators “work for nothing” (even though flexible fair dealing would be a lot like fair use in the US — hardly a disaster). The President of Warner Music Canada talked about disappearing jobs, and many industry employees painted a dire picture of colleagues and artists struggling to make ends meet (with little mention of any success stories). Yet, when the occasional concrete recommendation was made, it was to implement a notice-and-takedown system (ripe for abuse), extend the
“you must be a criminal” tax blank media levy to digital audio players (an idea that’s been struck down twice), or enshrine an inducement doctrine into law — extreme measures which have provided little solace to failing businesses elsewhere.
It wasn’t argument. It was the language of moral panics.
The Canadian record industry was demanding to be lied to, to be told that more restrictive copyright laws will save their business. Though fewer and fewer people can convincingly tell the lie, they seemed perfectly capable of convincing each other that restrictive copyright legislation might somehow stop the market from changing (even with a decade of hindsight on the DMCA). It’s tragic, because hard working people who love music and love working for artists are losing their jobs, but the industry continues to block the sort of innovations that could provide it with a way forward. A lawyer described the music industry as a “copyright industry,” even though most artists and companies who are figuring out how to make money in the digital economy are successful despite copyright — not because of it.
Artist voices were few (nevermind consumer voices), which is disappointing because many Canadian creator groups are adopting more forward thinking approaches, proposing solutions that don’t involve criminalizing common consumer behaviour. Now… most creators echoed the industry in supporting the levy and its expansion to digital audio players and even ISPs, and some asked for new royalties and more collective licensing, but that’s much better than demanding stricter laws and enforcement mechanisms. The problem remains though, that although collective licensing may be a move in the right direction, short-term revenue from additional royalties and levies also increases barriers to innovation, making it harder for new sustainable long-term business models to emerge. Artists and creators need to find a way to earn money that’s based on a solid economic ground, instead of depending on levies that can quickly become absurd. That’s where the record industry should be able to help them out.
Artists and creators need to be able to experiment with new business models, but the copyright crutch gets in the way. They turn to levies and licensing because they can’t imagine how else to make money, but successes have been outside of the copyright system. Canada needs innovative companies to help artists and creators find digital business models, not to chase fictive legislative solutions. If the Canadian record industry isn’t willing to help creators with what’s next, they need to clear out of the way.
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