Friday, April 23, 2010

Who's dictating Canada's Copyright Legislation?

According to a report in the National Post this weekend, the Harper government is going to make yet another attempt to table a copyright bill this fall and winter. This bill is an attempt to update current legislation to bring it into the digital age.

I fail to understand how it will be possible to prevent copying and distribution of music, digital books, television programming and movies. With the advent of PVRs, recording of movies and television programs and subsequent copying to DVDs would be impossible to prevent with current technology. Under legislation proposed in 2008, consumers would not have been allowed to keep recorded shows indefinitely. Interesting idea but how would it be enforceable?

Since 1997, Canadians have been paying a blank media levy on blank audio recording media including CDs (and tapes although they are almost never used) of $0.29 per unit and the money collected is distributed to artists. By September 2007, over $100 million had been distributed to eligible artists. I would imagine that the Canadian Recording Industry and Canadian Motion Picture Distributor's Association are unhappy with the levy since consumers are using far fewer CDs with the advent of mp3 and multiple format video files. The Canadian Recording Industry Association has also attempted to have a levy assessed on portable digital audio recorders (i.e. iPods) and has also attempted to limit the ability of consumers to make legal copies of media for their own use.

Every year in April, the United States Trade Representative releases its Special 301 Report which lists countries that the U.S. believes need to reform their intellectual property laws. Canada has been included on that list for the past 15 years, in fact, Canada was added to the Priority Watch List in 2009 (along with China, Russia and India among others).

Here's an excerpt from the Report:

"Canada will be added to the Priority Watch List in 2009. The United States appreciates the high level of cooperation between our two governments in many important bilateral and multilateral IPR initiatives. The United States also welcomed the Government of Canada’s reaffirmation earlier this year of its 2007 and 2008 commitments to improve IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) protection and enforcement. However, the Government of Canada has not delivered on these commitments by promptly and effectively implementing key copyright reforms. The United States continues to have serious concerns with Canada’s failure to accede to and implement the WIPO Internet Treaties, which Canada signed in 1997. We urge Canada to enact legislation in the near term to strengthen its copyright laws and implement these treaties. The United States also continues to urge Canada to improve its IPR enforcement system to enable authorities to take effective action against the trade in counterfeit and pirated products within Canada..."

There's nothing like having the United States put pressure on Canada telling us how to rewrite our legislation, is there?

All of this is being done because of so-called concern for the recording artists. According to the website, most artists make only about $1 per album sold and only when that album is sold at full retail price. How many times do you buy an album at full retail? The normal royalty rate for musicians is 9 to 15% with 3 percentage points going to the producer and 3 to 5 percentage points going to cover recording and packaging costs. This leaves the artist with roughly 6% (at best). Yes, the artists lose when illegal copies of their albums are made but it appears that the bigger losers are the retailers, the producers and the distributors. How many of us feel sorry for them? They create nothing yet they reap huge financial rewards from the work of the artists. The federal and provincial governments also lose great amounts of sales tax revenue when sales of pre-recorded videos and music drop. It is interesting to note that the provincial and federal governments make more on the sale of a CD than the artist that recorded it.

It is undeniable that any changes to the copyright laws in Canada are being to some degree being done under pressure from the United States government. These changes will provide little additional benefit to the individual artist who creates the product. The greatest beneficiaries to changes will be both levels of government and the retailers, producers and distributors of music and video.

I suggest that the government's motives for changing Canada's copyright laws are at least somewhat suspect and I dont particularly believe that the government has the interests of musicians and other artists at heart. Our government has to be careful that they aren't pandering to the bidding of American recording industry organizations like the RIAA and multinational media companies. They also should not be acting merely to satisfy their American political counterparts.


National Post Report on Copyright Bill Changes

Canadian Tariffs on Recordable Media

Summary of Music Contracts

United States Trade Representative Special 301 Report - Canada placed on Priority Watch List

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