A New Proposal to Protect Canadian Musicians: The iPod Levy

A New Proposal to Protect Canadian Musicians: The iPod Levy

Amanda Carpenter is a JD Candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.

Along with the large amount of copyrighted music that gets copied in Canada without compensating the musician, there are attempts to make sure that some money goes back to Canadian musicians. For example, every time you buy blank media such as a CD or cassette in Canada a portion of the price paid goes to Canadian publishers, musicians and record labels. This has been reported to be an effective way of compensating musicians whose livelihood depends on the returns from their music and thus a way of growing Canadian culture.

Jennifer Ditchburn of the Canadian Press reports that since 2000, $180 million has been distributed through the system. However, this money has been received by over 97,000 rights holders. That's less than $1,600 over ten years or an average of less than $160 a year for each of these rights holders, "most of whom" would supposedly "not be able to continue their careers without this revenue.” So the effectiveness of this system may be questionable. In fact, it may be those imposing and collecting the levies who are the ones really benefitting.

After the purported success of this program, a new idea has been proposed by New Democrat MP Charlie Angus (and a former member of the Montreal punk scene): an iPod levy. More specifically, the levy would be imposed on devices that fall under this definition of “audio recording device”: a device that contains a permanently embedded data storage medium, including solid state or hard disk, designed, manufactured and advertised for the purpose of copying sound recordings, excluding any prescribed kind of recording device. This means an iPod-like device, whether it has a hard disk (iPod classic) or a solid state/flash disk (iPod nano, iPod touch, etc). It does not really cover laptops or hard disks unless they are "designed, manufactured and advertised for the purpose of copying sound recordings". This makes sense, since many people working at companies aren't even allowed to download music on their company laptops or PCs. So why should their company pay a levy on their computers or hard disks?

In return for this levy people will be able to legally transfer music to devices like iPods. This is not a new idea. Back in 2007, the Copyright Board of Canada decided that the blank media levy should extend to devices like iPods. This would have meant a $75 levy on each iPod (with over 30 gigabytes of storage). In this world of endless downloading and copying, it is not uncommon to hear that since the arrival of Napster some have completely stopped paying for music or that some have no less than 9,000 songs downloaded for free on their computer or stored on their iPods. Hence, a levy that would give musicians (especially Canadian ones) more money for their work might seem to be a good idea. After all, you don’t expect to get gasoline or groceries for free, so what makes music so different? However, others thought otherwise, especially the Conservatives.

For this measure to work, it must be supported by the government. However, so far it only has the full support of the Bloc Quebecois, which is not enough. The Conservatives have taken a particular dislike to the idea. In doing so, they seem to have bought into a “user-rights” philosophy where getting music for free is justified since it seems to benefit the user, at least in the short term until musicians find that they can no longer support themselves through their music and decide to do something else. The Conservatives have not yet introduced other amendments to the Copyright Act that some say are long needed. Heritage Minister James Moore also states that "This is a very serious hit to consumers that could impact them, and if the NDP are as committed to raising taxes this week as they always have been, then this is a real threat." However, Angus has said that he wants to make sure that Canadians are not unfairly taxed. Moore also states that "It's not in the interest of the music industry to make it more expensive to buy the devices on which they're listening to Canadian content," he said. "It doesn't serve the Canadian cultural community."

However, for those interested in ensuring that both the interests of creators and consumers are balanced, it seems that this levy would go towards serving both Canadian musicians and the public. Perhaps, as Angus says, this is Canada’s chance to strike the balance right. But the question must be asked as to whether enough money will go to Canadian musicians from this levy, or simply to those imposing and collecting the levies. And perhaps it will result in Canadians buying their iPods elsewhere for financial reasons, which will result in this new bill being detrimental to Canadian retailers like Future Shop.