Some Share the Files, All Share the Costs

Some Share the Files, All Share the Costs

The Songwriters Association of Canada (SAC) recently proposed legalization of peer-to-peer music filesharing via the imposition of an obligatory $5 monthly fee on all Canadian broadband users. It is estimated that this would result in the collection of $500 million to $900 million per year, to be distributed to musicians and creators to compensate them for the downloads of their songs. The solution sounds simple, but is laden with problems.

It is highly doubtful that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will accept this scheme without resistance. The enforcement of the monthly levy will see many angry internet subscribers, especially those who do not download music at all but who nonetheless have to pay for the service. Furthermore, the proposal requires that the distribution of the collected monies to each musician be based on the amount of downloads of that particular musician. ISPs will thus be required to engage in the costly activity of policing customer downloads closely. If that is not deterrent enough, the possible privacy issues that will result from such policing will likely further discourage ISPs from accepting the SAC proposal.

The proposition seems to be a ‘band-aid’ solution to a complex issue. The main benefit of the scheme would be that those who have been engaging in peer-to-peer downloading will be able to do so without having the stigma of ‘illegality’ attached to their activities. However, the proposal fails to address the after-effects of its implementation. While SAC seems to be speaking on behalf of creator rights, it does not discuss the possibility that songwriters and musicians will have to “give up their long-established right to approve or disapprove of the use and means of dissemination of the work” leaving them only with the “right to be paid for peer-to-peer downloads.”[1] Furthermore, aside from imposing a heavy burden upon ISPs, there is also no indication that levies on CDs will be lifted, resulting in multiple tariffs on consumers.

The efforts by SAC should be commended, since it accepts the reality that peer-to-peer file sharing is here to stay and attempts to balance the phenomenon with creators’ rights. However, while it is refreshing to see some overdue lobbying for creator rights, the proposal seems under-developed at this stage.


[1] Could $5 a Month Save the Music Industry?” The Toronto Star. 20 Feb. 2008.