New Tariff Aims to Benefit Struggling Musicians by Discouraging Dancing?

New Tariff Aims to Benefit Struggling Musicians by Discouraging Dancing?

On May 31, the Copyright Board of Canada certified a new tariff on the use of recorded music played at events such as weddings, karaoke, and conventions. The tariff will be paid to collective Re:Sound, which represents the rights of artists and music labels.

Section 68(4) of the Copyright Act certifies the tariffs paid by those playing recorded music to collective societies. A number of justifications for the existence of these tariffs are up for discussion, chief among them being the necessity of ensuring that those involved in music production be rewarded and compensated for their efforts. The new tariff will allow artists to benefit from the use of their recorded music at events. This tariff is in addition to one already paid to SOCAN, which collects a tariff on behalf of songwriters whose music is played at various venues. It is the responsibility of the venues to pay the tariff; however, the venues may choose to distribute this cost at will. For example, couples planning a wedding will experience an additional charge from the venue to cover the cost of the tariff.

The existence of more than one tariff covering the same use of music has led many critics to question the effectiveness of the collectives and the alleged benefit such tariffs have for the artists registered with Re:Sound or SOCAN. On the one hand, it cannot be denied that music has an inherent value and some importance should be placed on ensuring that people pay for the music they enjoy. Furthermore, the tariff is said to benefit lesser-known and independent artists more than famous names and record labels by helping these individuals earn a living making music. The cost to listeners should be minimal. For example, venues that host events will pay $9.25 a day for gatherings with less than 100 attendees.

While the argument in favour of supporting musicians’ careers and acknowledging the value of music is an important one, critics articulate a number of opposing arguments. Skeptics point out that tariffs are constantly increasing without any solid evidence that it is indeed the artists who benefit the most. According to one article, “[t]he ones who really and consistently benefit the most [from the tariffs] are those who run the collectives, those who are consultants to the collectives, and the lawyers who punctually pursue new and higher Copyright Board tariffs using money raised from the previous tariffs and paid for ultimately by the Canadian public.”

While the statistics on how much artists are actually benefitting from tariffs are beyond the scope of this blog post, I think the critics’ arguments deserve consideration. The new tariff doubles the cost of playing recorded music if guests at an event are going to be dancing. This additional cost lacks explanation.  If anything, it suggests that dancing is more valuable or more enjoyable than listening - a suggestions that probably depends on who you ask.  Or who you dance with.

Nora Sleeth is a JD candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.