Major Labels Accused Of $6 Billion Worth Of Copyright Infringement In Canada

from the oops dept

The major labels and their friends like to throw around huge numbers of "damages" when it comes to copyright infringement. But how about when they're on the receiving end of a copyright infringement lawsuit. Up in Canada, there's a class action lawsuit against the Canadian divisions of all of the major record labels, suggesting that the labels have infringed on the copyrights of artists to the tune of $6 billion (Updated: the original math was off, it's actually $6 billion, not $60). As Michael Geist explains:
The claims arise from a longstanding practice of the recording industry in Canada, described in the lawsuit as "exploit now, pay later if at all." It involves the use of works that are often included in compilation CDs (ie. the top dance tracks of 2009) or live recordings. The record labels create, press, distribute, and sell the CDs, but do not obtain the necessary copyright licences.

Instead, the names of the songs on the CDs are placed on a "pending list", which signifies that approval and payment is pending. The pending list dates back to the late 1980s, when Canada changed its copyright law by replacing a compulsory licence with the need for specific authorization for each use. It is perhaps better characterized as a copyright infringement admission list, however, since for each use of the work, the record label openly admits that it has not obtained copyright permission and not paid any royalty or fee.

Over the years, the size of the pending list has grown dramatically, now containing over 300,000 songs. From Beyonce to Bruce Springsteen, the artists waiting for payment are far from obscure, as thousands of Canadian and foreign artists have seen their copyrights used without permission and payment.
And yet, amazingly, the record labels -- these "strong defenders" of the importance of copyright and paying for every use -- somehow have decided that it makes no sense to pay this bill. The list itself details about $50 million in unpaid royalties that are owed, often to well known musicians who it would be quite easy for the industry to find and pay up. As for the $6 billion number? Well, the class action lawsuit that's been filed seeks statutory damages starting at $20,000 per infringement and going up from there. Given that these same record labels have been defending those same (or, similar, in the US, at least) statutory rates for infringement, you have to wonder how they can realistically claim that those statutory rates shouldn't apply to themselves as well.

Once again, though, we're seeing what's really happening. The record labels are copyright defenders only when they profit unfairly from it. When they can screw over others via ignoring copyright, they have no problem doing so.

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Dec 2009 @ 10:07pm

    Re:

    "1. The lead plaintiff in the suit has been dead since 1988."

    Which just goes to show how broken our intellectual property system is and how much it favors the rich and the powerful at public expense. The RIAA has broken the very laws they promote and the plaintiff even died before the RIAA was held accountable (and the RIAA or CRIA or whatever has still not been held accountable).

    "2. The "pending list" seems to have been born around the same time the lead plaintiff died, and this is the first lawsuit about it? Is there anything like a doctrine of Laches in Canada?"

    I think the problem here is that it costs individuals too much to sue such a rich and powerful corporation with so many stolen resources and so it took time for enough affected individuals to poll enough resources to file a class action lawsuit. However, the fact that the RIAA can get away with breaking the law for so long is telling about who the laws are truly made for.

    "3. If these artists were smart, they would have given away all their music for free. As such, they should be thanking the record companies for all the publicity. If the record companies managed to sell some scarce goods (CDs) with the music on them, without paying the artists anything, then good for them. That's how the market rolls."

    But for the record labels to sell the goods of others without their permission and then to turn around and disallow anyone else to do the same thing is an act hypocrisy that should not be tolerated.

    "4. The artists here (well, the ones that aren't dead) seem to have a business model problem. Since getting screwed by the record companies is inevitable, they need to just get over that. Rather than expending their efforts in a lawsuit that has no social value, they should get back to innovating and choosing smart business models that work instead of whining."

    A: The record labels et al have destroyed most business models that work. Yes we have the Internet (and they're trying to ruin that too) but outside the Internet existing cableco/telco infrastructure is often monopoly owned via government enforcent and no one else can build new infrastructure since the government or local governments won't allow it and public airwaves are also monopoly owned via government enforcement and those who own it do not support indie music.

    B: We should treat the record labels like they treat us and like they treat others. They lobbied the government to make a deal on behalf of society that if we infringe on their material we will pay up. Likewise, their end of the deal should be met.

    It's also the principle of the matter.
    By the reocrd labels suing people for infringement they have made an implicit contract with the people that they will hold us up to certain standards which implies that they believe those standards are good standards and hence they should be held up to those exact standards. As such, we should hold them up to the same standards they hold us up to.

    If someone wants to hold me up to certain standards they should be held up to those exact same standards regardless of whether or not it is in their best interest to be held up to those standards.

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