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Eddie Schwartz

Canadian copyright reform must be fair to music creators and consumers

By:Eddie Schwartz | Published:8/6/2010

In recent weeks, the government has revealed details of Bill C-32, its long-anticipated revision to the Canadian Copyright Act. It is a complex piece of legislation and one that, if enacted, would affect all the creative endeavors in which copyright plays a role, such as music, movies, books, photography, and television, among others. The bill’s impact, or lack thereof, on the music industry is the focus of my comments below.

Bill C-32 comes at a time when there has been much talk that Canada is a “rogue” nation—that our current laws are inadequate to stop “piracy” and that we have become a “nation of infringers”.

One of the ways the Bill C-32 seeks to address these concerns is by harmonizing our copyright law with the United States and other World Intellectual Property Organization compliant nations. But WIPO compliance has not restored the music industry to health in the United States or any of the other countries where its provisions have been adopted. In fact, even more draconian measures, such as disconnecting file-sharers from the Internet are being experimented with in a number of European countries that are WIPO compliant. Just as a decade of lawsuits failed to stop or significantly slow the growth of file-sharing in the U.S., these efforts are likely to be counterproductive. File-sharers can easily employ available masking technologies and instead of ending “piracy”, it will simply be driven underground.

Under the proposed legislation it would be illegal to “break” digital locks, also known as technical protection measures or TPMs, used by the entertainment industry to control digital copying. In addition, infringers could be sued for up to $5,000.

Given that currently something in the order of 100 million unique songs without TPMs are already being shared over P2P networks in Canada and around the world, it’s difficult to understand what the government hopes to achieve by “locking the barn after the horses have run off”. Music file-sharing now constitutes well over 90 percent of all the music obtained on wired and wireless networks, and dwarfs all other means of distribution, including iTunes.

The Songwriters Association of Canada has proposed that Bill C-32 be amended to legalize music file-sharing in conjunction with a remuneration system for creators and rights-holders. Consumers who wish to file-share would be asked to pay a reasonable monthly licence fee. The revenue received could be distributed to performers, songwriters, and rights-holders on a transparent, pro-rata basis by one of Canada’s respected music collectives, such as SOCAN.

This one simple measure would not only go a long way toward eliminating the need for “locks and lawsuits”, but would create a new business model that would be fair to consumers and creators alike.

Apparently the government will hold consultations with interested parties later this year with a view to improving Bill C-32. Many of us who write and perform music for a living hope that the government takes a progressive approach to the difficult issues facing our industry, and moves beyond the failed policies of the last 10 years.

Rather than follow other nations down the copyright rabbit hole into a netherworld that makes less and less sense, Canada can lead the world to a forward-thinking approach that gives consumers the unrestricted access to music they want, while at the same time fairly compensating creators.

Eddie Schwartz is a Juno award-winning recording artist and songwriter, the president of the Songwriters Association of Canada, and a director of the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. He represents the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada in Nashville, where he resides with his family.