Canadian Songwriters Want To Embrace File Sharing, But Do They Have The Right Approach?

from the artists-who-get-that-the-internet-isn't-evil dept

in 2007, the Songwriters Association of Canada gained some international headlines with a proposal to legalize non-commercial peer-to-peer file sharing through an ISP levy. This sort of proposal wasn’t new, but had not been so prominently put forth by an artist organization before. There were serious problems with the proposal, but it stimulated a healthy debate and it started from many correct premises — that file sharing should be embraced, that digital locks and lawsuits were not a way forward, etc. But it was a non-voluntary, “you’re a criminal” tax that could open the floodgates for other industries to demand similar levies.

I was a member of the Songwriters Association of Canada from 2007-2011, and I had the opportunity to express my concerns about the proposal to many people involved. Last year, I attended a session with an update on the proposal, and was surprised how much it had changed. The proposal had dropped the legislative angle in favor of a business to business approach, with an actual opt-out option for both creators and customers of participating ISPs. Unlike groups behind other licensing proposals, the SAC has actually been responsive to many concerns, and unlike other artist groups, the SAC takes a decidedly positive view on sharing music and the opportunities technology provides to creators. This attitude comes through in the proposal:

Rather than a legislative approach to the monetization of music file-sharing as we originally envisioned, the S.A.C. is now focused on a “business to business” model that requires no new legislation be enacted in Canada.

Our basic belief however remains the same: Music file-sharing is a vibrant, open, global distribution system for music of all kinds, and presents a tremendous opportunity to both creators and rights-holders. […]

People have always shared music and always will. The music we share defines who we are, and who our friends and peers are. The importance of music in the fabric of our own culture, as well as those around the world, is inextricably bound to the experience of sharing. [emphasis changed]

As the copyright debate heats up again in Canada in light of SOPA and new pressures on pending legislation, this positive attitude towards peer-to-peer file sharing was expressed again in a recent TorrentFreak interview with the SAC VP, Jean-Robert Bisaillon:

We think the practice [of file-sharing] is great and unstoppable. This is why we want to establish a regime that allows everyone to keep on doing it without stigmatizing the public and, instead, find a way for artists and rights holders to be fairly compensated for the music files that are being shared. […]

Other positive aspects include being able to find music that is not available in the commercial realm offer, finding a higher quality of digital files, being able to afford music even if you are poor and being able to discover new artists or recommend them to friends. […]

Music is much better off with the Web. The internet network allows for musical discovery despite distance and time of the day. It has sparked collaborations between musicians unimaginable before. It has helped artists to book international tours without expensive long-distances charges and postal delays we knew before. [emphasis added]

However, significant problems remain with the proposal. For example, the original criticism still stands as to how this would scale for other industries — what about book publishers, newspapers, movie studies, video game manufacturers and other industries that are also crying foul about “piracy”? The SAC dismisses other cultural industries pretty quickly, as if only the music industry is concerned about unauthorized copying. And, just like private copying levies have suffered from scope creep, as people no longer buy blank audio cassettes or CDs, or short-sightedness, as technology changes rapidly, it’s not clear how the SAC model would adapt to growing wireless and mobile computing or more distributed file sharing. Many more questions remain: Would small, independent artists, who are not charting through traditional means, get fair treatment? Is it wise to largely rely on a single, proprietary vendor, Big Champagne, for tracking all distribution? Would consumers be paying multiple times for music? What does it mean to “self-declare not to music file-share” in order to opt-out?

But the central problem with the proposal is the SAC’s copyright crutch. Jean-Robert Bisaillon says things like,

The Internet has dramatically increased the private non-commercial sharing of music, which we support. All that is missing a means to compensate music creators for this massive use of their work. [emphasis added]

And the proposal says things like,

Once a fair and reasonable monetization system is in place, all stakeholders including consumers and Internet service providers will benefit substantially. [emphasis added]

The SAC seems obsessed with a “monetization system,” when the truth is there is no one model, no magic bullet. Rather, the the sky is rising and the path to success involves all sorts of different models and creative approaches, most of which don’t depend on copyright or worrying about getting paid for every use. Even a voluntary license plan is still a bad idea. The means to compensate music creators isn’t missing, it’s just increasingly found outside of copyright.

Still, it’s important for the SAC’s voice to be heard as the copyright debate heats up again in Canada. As a creator group offering a positive take on peer-to-peer file sharing, and denouncing an “adversarial relationship” between creators and fans, they offer an important counterpoint to the SOPA-style provisions being pushed by Canadian record industry groups. I would take the SAC’s constructive and responsive approach over record industry astroturfing and fear mongering any day.

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Companies: songwriters association of canada

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Comments on “Canadian Songwriters Want To Embrace File Sharing, But Do They Have The Right Approach?”

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Ninja (profile) says:

Well, this is one nice win in a sea of failure in the music industry. Granted they have issues but they are going to the right direction.

I’d say that you don’t monetize directly when it concerns culture. For music, specifically, the monetization comes from artist-to-fan connection: shows, merchandise, donations. And file sharing is the driving force behind this connection.

A good idea for the artists would be something that mixes flattr, Spotify, Jamendo/TPB and paypal (donations). Explaining: you pay a minimum of X per month and from that minimum you have like 40% for maintaining the service, 40% split by the artists you listen to and 20% for flattring (micropayments for artists you like). This minimum plan would feature P2P download and streaming. For, let’s say, $2 more you’d get blazing speed direct downloads too (via http). And if you want you may load more cash that will either go for the flattr style contribution or you may donate for specific artists. And for the win you provide a cheap platform for the artists to sell their stuff (including tickets for shows).

Voil?. We have a pretty good model. 100% certain I’d completely abandon any other source for that price (I’d even pay 1.5x the amount). You’d need to abandon the copyright notion and the rights should belong to the creator(s), not the middlemen. The labels would act as a facilitator for distribution and infra-structure for shows and studio edition/recording for those who want it. That’s the problem, they won’t allow that to happen if they can =D

Anonymous Coward says:

Read it again Blaise, you missed the point: They want the “benefits” of file sharing, but they want to get paid.

Effectively, they want ANOTHER government mandate similar to a surcharge on blank CDs to provide them another source of revenue, by charging all internet users, in one form or another.

It’s bullshit, it’s punishing the innocent for the acts of the guilty, because it’s easier to reach in everyone’s pocket a bit rather than dealing with those who break the law.

It’s a socialist idea, really – not surprising it makes it onto Techdirt, which is quickly becoming a quasi-socialist support network.

Robert (profile) says:

We tried with (gone now)

Billy Bragg and Jon Newton (of setup a website with the intention of connecting artists and fans directly. The motto was artists deserve to be paid and fans want to pay them. (Of course the implication is that you have something WORTHY of being paid for in the first place — just because you create something does not mean people should buy it, they need a reason to and if it is good, they WILL pay for it! If you give more reasons to buy it they will PAY MORE too!)

The hope was to engage artists and fans to figure out a means so artists can (not “must”) be paid for their work while the fans obtain what the perceive as good value for their money. We hoped to come up with business models.

It fell apart though, as Bragg and Indianna Gregg were focused on the Internet Tax/Levy/License concept and could not see how it would fail:

1) No guarantee artists will be paid fairly (just like SOCAN can’t guarantee that now)
2) Software, Gameing, Movie, and News industries would follow suit – making the levy/tax/license unaffordable to most
3) Could not successfully manage which sites were accessed, who downloaded, who didn’t (why should someone pay if they don’t fileshare)
4) Could not understand that no matter what you charge, it still won’t be enough

So on and on we went, back and forth and we know other artists read it, but didn’t post anything. Mostly it was back and forth between Gregg or Bragg and the fans/consumers/techies (mostly the latter).

We did have a visit from a bassist Steve something. is gone so I can’t look it up. Sorry.

The point is, we tried very hard to bring the artists up to speed on why levies/taxes/licensing just does not work and mandatory licensing is criminalizing users who may not even fileshare.

This took place in 2009 I think. Check for the dates – search

It’s definitely worth trying again, because we’d like to help them, of course. Too bad I didn’t capture all those posts on before it was shutdown (last year sometime).

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

This is, at least, a start. And, to me a good one.

Remember this is the group that went spare over the possibility of songs being recorded on blank CDs and is partially responsible for the “content” tax we pay on blank rewriteable media in Canada.

They’re moving in the right direction. Not completely but that takes time as these things always do.

The copyright crutch is still there, the middlemen — the labels — still seem to be there but the move away from SOPA/PIPA and litigation as a model is the right move. As others have pointed out there are other models already there instead of an ISP tax which goes to everyone who holds a music copyright be it songwriter or label.

Ninja’s model looks good. Not great but good and a step or two along the path that SAC seems headed on. In some respects it must be kinda scary for them. They “safety” of the old way will disappear as a ne way of distribution and publicity take the place of labels and payola.

Perhaps the SAC actually heard and took to heart what Neil Young had to say about the Web having become the “new” radio where people find, share and talk about new music they’ve found.

Personally I want to see the songwriters, musicians, producers and studios paid. I don’t care about the member companies of the RIAA. Their time is passing or already has passed. That will happen whether or not the corrupt forms of modern copyright continue to exist, is reformed or vanishes completely.

SAC, at least, has heard the audience, their fans and is working on something different. Let’s give them credit for that, at least, then help them along by suggesting alternative lines of thought and, yes, busibess models.

Killercool (profile) says:


Oh, man. I’m so sorry. I was completely unaware that acknowledge possible benefits of a system that doesn’t yet exist, while at the same time questioning the wisdom of enacting the system because of it’s massive failures was so bad.

Also, just because you don’t currently share music doesn’t mean they would be punishing everyone. Because, y’know, if this system was enacted, you could share any and all music you wished, so there would be no “innocent” or “guilty,” just people using the internet.

Oh, and if “socialist” is the worst problem you can find with this thing, you need to look harder. There is nothing wrong with socialism’s ideals, only with the self-defeating fact that a socialist system must be enforced by a dictatorship, thereby invalidating the “equality” of the system.

Anonymous Coward says:


Would you like some cheese to go with your whine?

The idea here is that in order to allow “music sharing”, aka piracy to go on in a positive light, they want a way to get paid. The result is similar to the tax on blank recording materials (CDs, tape, etc) which is used in Canada as a way to filter money back to the artists (or really just to companies like Nettwerk) so that they can claim to be making a living.

Putting a charge on all internet connections, example, to “support music” would basically punish those people who don’t download, or have no interest in it. It would make a person in Canada who doesn’t pirate suddenly on the hook to pay a tax to allow for piracy to be “legal”.

It’s a socialistic way to pay the artists. Instead of the best artists selling access to their material or selling their music digitally, they want to give it away for an assured percentage of the pie, foisted on the backs of the taxpayers or internet users.

I am surprised that more Techdirt readers aren’t piling on about these guys wanting an assured living from making music. Don’t you guys usually bitch when someone wants to have a right to a profit? This is worse, this would be a government mandated profit.

JMT says:


“The idea here is that in order to allow “music sharing”, aka piracy…”

It’s telling that you think these are the same thing. “Piracy” is the content industries’ boogie-man word for copyright infringement. Plenty of “music sharing” is authorised and hence not piracy. The proposal here is to make more music shareable, so your “aka piracy” comment is completely wrong.

Blaise Alleyne (profile) says:


Why do you say you aren’t allowed to torrent? The SAC’s intent is to legal non-commercial file sharing via whatever means through licensing. They explicitly say in the proposal that it would require no behaviour modification. Their intent is clearly to make it legal to share, with torrents or other p2p technology or whatever, through licensing.

Blaise Alleyne (profile) says:


Effectively, they want ANOTHER government mandate similar to a surcharge on blank CDs to provide them another source of revenue, by charging all internet users, in one form or another.

Wow. So, you didn’t read my article or their proposal. This was the original 2007 proposal, a legislative change to add a new right of rumenaration, something much more closely modeled after the private copying levy. They explicitly dropped this at least a year ago, and are putting forth a business to business solution that involves negotiating with ISPs to offer licenses to customers, and that explicitly would have an opt-out option for customers. So, it’s no longer a non-voluntary plan, no longer a legislative plan. You could opt out.

And, if you couldn’t tell, I still don’t think it’s the right plan. But that doesn’t make it socialism or non-voluntary.

Anonymous Coward says:


Blaise, it’s the same thing: the “license” to USP users is a tax on users, nothing more and nothing less. Why opt out? Why not opt in? Ahh, because they are hoping most people won’t want to spend the time and effort required to remove the small monthly charge from their bills. Perhaps they are preying on people like my parents, who don’t check the bills too closely, and would swallow a small increase without consideration.

It’s a bullshit way to do business, effectively asking the public to hand over it’s money to support artists, instead of dealing with the true issues of piracy.

It’s just another item down the line, like CanCon and blank recordable material taxes, designed to give the artists a hand out so they don’t have to work so hard or complete in the real marketplace. I cannot imagine anyone on Techdirt supporting such a mandate.

Reece says:

Why should I pay a levy?

As clever as this comment wants to be it does not address the central points being made one way or another and is little more than nonsense based on personal opinion. Personal opinion is fine, of course, but it adds nothing to the facts under discussion. Whether you like or dislike the individual artists work is moot.

Blaise Alleyne (profile) says:


Oh, I agree the proposal has lots of problems, and they’re definitely assuming that very few people want to opt out, that opting in would be the default, etc etc, and that there should be some “system” that pays all songwriters, rather than working to develop business models, etc etc.

I’m not saying I agree with the proposal.

But I still think it’s important to recognize how it’s changed. They started off with a legislative solution, something that would be baked into the Copyright Act for which there could be no easy opt out. They’re dropped legislative change in favour of licensing agreements, with a real opt out — even if the implementation on ISP bills might be lousy (and I bet it would be with a lousy ISP).

It’s still not a solution I support, but nonetheless I am encouraged by how responsive they’ve been to criticism — and I’ve been a critic speaking to some of the people very heavily involved, while I was a member of the SAC. I find it encouraging that, unlike many other music industry lobby groups, they aren’t tone deaf, they’ve been making significant changes to the proposal. Even if I don’t agree with the proposal, I still like the direction it’s been heading in.

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