Toronto Copyright Townhall: Canadian Record Industry Mobilizes In Panic, Everyone Loses Out

from the please-make-the-future-stop dept

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 behavior. 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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Comments on “Toronto Copyright Townhall: Canadian Record Industry Mobilizes In Panic, Everyone Loses Out”

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17 Comments
william (profile) says:

being a Canadian, I am really sad to see the consultation slowly sink into a farce.

The fact that the minister shows a non-caring attitude toward an unbalanced meeting basically means that this is all for nothing, a show, a farce for the government to show the voters that they are doing something. In the end they’ll just do whatever the industry tell them to and claim that they did consult with the public.

I am feeling pessimistic about our copyright future… sigh.

Blaise Alleyne (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’m not sure what to think yet about Tony Clement. He and James Moore have made great speeches that show an understanding of various sides of the debate, and I’d bet Clement would be cautious to say anything negative about the record industry’s presence, because there’s real political pressure there and he can’t get on their bad side… but I’m not quite pessimistic yet.

It all depends on what the law actually looks like.

I’m not optimistic either, but I think there’s a chance that they won’t repeat Bill C-61. Though, that doesn’t mean they’ll get things right…

I don’t know, I think what’s most important now is to be active in the debate. Let’s make sure the Conservatives know how much backlash there will be toward another Bill C-61, and what the better alternatives are. They may not care much about copyright, but they sure as hell don’t want it to be controversial.

I’m not sure we can get a good copyright law (though flexible fair dealing would be huge), but we might be able to get one that doesn’t get in the way of innovation.

kcits (profile) says:

It only goes to show that the recording industry is never satisfied.

In Canada the levy on recordable media was supposed to be the way to end the problem of copyright owners getting paid for their work. But instead of it being a solution, all it has done is make those same copyright holders want more. They will never be satisfied until they have sucked every last dollar from the public.
Never mind that one of the main problems is that some of the material they create is worthless commercially. All they think they have to do is create something, wait, and watch the riches come rolling in. What is even worse that the recording companies, not the creators are the ones profiting. Propping up failing business models by raping the public. Trying to sell the same old packaged media that no one wants, and whose quality diminishes each day. Look alike , and sound alike artists that do not give anyone a reason to spend good hard earned money. It is no wonder that consumers are downloading media first.

Joel Alleyne (profile) says:

The Market at Play

Seems to me that even the most strident conservative (as in the Conservative party) would understand that propping up unworkable business models goes against market principles. Given time, and as you say … with experimentation, new enlightened business models will emerge and replace the record industry as it exists today. Maybe some of the more adventurous companies will cross this chasm successfully. Most won’t.

nasch (profile) says:

royalties

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.

In other words, from the music industry perspective a win-win.

Blaise Alleyne (profile) says:

Re: royalties

“In other words, from the music industry perspective a win-win.”

heh, except one record industry lawyer labeled the levy advocates as folks who are “expecting that the government will do nothing,” and trading dollars for dimes. The record industry folks may want the levies, but that’s still not enough (hence the CRIA fighting a digital audio player levy that could have legalized file sharing). They want levies and lawsuits.

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