Canada a download haven
A kid and his mother are in a CD store. The kid turns to the mother and asks her to buy him a CD. The mother replies: Can’t you just download it?
“I saw it with my own eyes,” says an incredulous John Jones, western regional manager for Warner Music Canada. “You expect that from a kid, but this was a 45-year-old woman. I was flabbergasted.”
But what he saw was nothing new. The world knows Canada as the Great White North — but to the music industry it seems more like the Wild West these days.
Toothless copyright legislation and recent court decisions that suggest personal file-sharing may be legal in this country have conspired to create a lawless free-for-all that’s siphoning millions of dollars and hurting the music scene, industry officials charge.
“We’re in a funny little bubble in Canada,” contends Graham Henderson, president of the Canadian Recording Industry Association, which represents the major record labels. “And we’re in that bubble because we don’t have modern digital laws. We don’t have a consensus of what’s right and wrong.”
It’s a stark contrast from the situation south of the border and overseas. In Europe, police have raided and shut down file-sharing sites. In America, the industry has fought back with a series of controversial lawsuits. Just last month, a 30-year-old Minnesota woman was ordered to pay $222,000 to six record companies for sharing 24 songs (though she had more than 1,700).
Here in Canada, where CRIA claims there are more than 1 billion illegal downloads per year, two landmark decisions have hamstrung the industry’s efforts to launch 29 similar suits. In 2003, the Copyright Board of Canada ruled that downloading music from P2P networks for personal use was legal. The next year, Federal Court Judge Konrad von Finckenstein took a similar stance, even questioning whether uploading files was breaking the law.
“The mere fact of placing a copy on a shared directory in a computer where that copy can be accessed via a P2P service does not amount to distribution,” Finckenstein wrote. “Before it constitutes distribution, there must be a positive act by the owner of the shared directory, such as sending out the copies or advertising that they are available for copying.”
More recently, the industry has focused on lobbying Ottawa to put more teeth into Canada’s copyright laws — something the Harper government promised in last month’s Throne Speech.
That’s good news to CRIA — but not to many of Canada’s musicians who rely on fans’ goodwill for their survival.
“We think lawsuits like the one in Minnesota would be terrible for the music business in Canada,” wrote Barenaked Ladies frontman Steven Page in a press release on behalf of the Canadian Music Creators Coalition, whose membership includes everyone from Avril Lavigne and Sarah McLachlan to Randy Bachman. “It’s shortsighted to say ‘see you in court’ one day and ‘see you at Massey Hall’ the next. If the labels want to try and sue fans, we hope that they’ll have the courtesy to stop trying to do it in our names.”
Henderson says the point of copyright reform is to attract investment and expand the industry.
“Having those sorts of laws in place encourages business investment. And that is absent in Canada. Nobody is interested in putting money into the digital marketplace because we have no laws to safeguard their investment.”
For Universal Music president and CEO Randy Lennox, it’s also a matter of respect.
“We haven’t sued consumers because we’re all nice Canadians,” he says. “But we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore. What are we, a whipping boy?”
But one expert believes the industry can never achieve a definitive legal victory.
“There are too many lawyers,” says Steve Gordon, an entertainment lawyer. “Lawyers have been promising that eventually they’ll be able to sue piracy away. And the executives have given the lawyers years now to try to do that. It’s a failed strategy. The lawyers have let them down.”
The disputes don’t end there — levies on blank DVDs and iPods meant to compensate artists, along with newly proposed taxes on legal digital downloads, are also points of contention in the complex issue. And some artists and labels claim file-sharing actually helps publicize bands, and doesn’t hurt sales.
“We hear from people in indie shops who tell us that peple come in who have already downloaded the album and have come in to buy it because they liked it,” says Mark Milne, co-founder of Canadian indie record label and distributor Sonic Unyon.
Despite their obvious differences, however, the experts agree on one thing: Education is the real key to solving the file-sharing crisis.
“I do think it begins at home in many respects,” Henderson says. “I think you’ll start to see in the wake of laws that this will start to become an issue in the home. Parents will start talking to kids about this. And there will be a whole brand new sort of ethic which will grow up about the use of the Internet.”
Canada a download haven