Cassete tapes. Compact discs. MP3 and audio files. Digital streaming. What do these things have in common? Well, they’re all things that—when they were introduced—the music industry was opposed to. In fact, the history of the old-fashioned, big-label music industry is lined with vehement opposition to numerous technical innovations. The claim of these more traditional organizations, and their membership in the industry, is that these apparent innovations are costly to artists. In many cases, because of the threat or possibility of piracy or copyright infringement. Which, while some of these claims are valid, they are only valid to the top 10 percent of artists and songwriters.
I live in the Midwest United States, but by means of resident Canadian and producer, Braydon Stachel, I became familiar with a radically different system of music and copyright than we have in the United States. A system that is inherently built to favour regional artists.
“Basically, we have Canadian content laws … [where] any over the air broadcast has to be 50% [percent] Canadian or it’s ‘illegal’ so to speak,” Stachel explained. “This new bill is essentially trying to … throttle how everyday customers listen to music.”
Stachel adds that what the Coalition is trying to do to music, they’ve already successfully coerced other companies into doing. Several years ago, the Coalition demanded Netflix change how they show content to Canadian consumers and the video streaming giant obliged. What this would mean in music is that Spotify, Apple Music, and other outlets like Soundcloud would have to overhaul their Canadian-facing sites to show 50% Canadian content to users, even if that content doesn’t align with the preference of consumers.
But as if this digital protectionism isn’t enough, the newly formed Canadian Music Policy Coalition—comprised of dozens of regional music PROs and organizations like SOCAN, CIMA, ACTRA, and 14 other organizations—has distributed radical proposals for new music policy in anticipation of a new legislative hearing which will review Canadian copyright law. Among these proposals are new taxes on smartphones and tablets, an extension on the term of copyrighted materials (the time intellectual property is protected for before it enters the public domain), and a Big Brother-esque system that would require ISPs to monitor what content Canadian users are consuming.
Many Canadian consumers, including Stachel, think that these policies will be abused. This viewpoint is solidified in part because the public has not been able to see the bill or document in its entirety. Instead, they’ve read bullet points from CMPC supporters. But these bullet points have emboldened many critics, who say that these proposals suppress individual freedom and online content. “You’re trying to create a legal framework that tells us how, when, and how much music we can listen to,” Stachel said in one of his tweets regarding to the CMPC. “At its core, this is borderline censorship of the Internet and a regressive policy for modern Canadian musicians.”
These proposals are not all that distant of proposals made in the last two decades. In 2007, the Canadian Copyright Board attempted to create an “iPod Tax” worth as much as $75. In the latter part of the 1990s, that same board prompted a radical increase in the price of blank cassettes and CDs after the industry cried “piracy.” Which, with these things and the notable lack of transparency from the CMPC on what specific policy they’re looking to pass, It’s starting to look like the Coalition is making a radical push to enact policies which would embolden the pockets of only a handful of artists and administrative staff. All the while, leaving Canadian consumers with a bill.
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