Last Friday, I chanced upon an op-ed piece in the Toronto Star under the headline Copyright Reform Must Protect Rights of Canadian Artists.
If your eyes didn’t glaze over at the phrase “copyright reform,” read on.
Three Canadian songwriters, Amy Sky, Marc Jordan and Marie Denise Pelletier, made a plea. Here’s the gist: Canadian performers need to be fairly compensated when their work is copied and used. Things go off the rails when they start quoting bumpf from Savethelevy.ca, a website exhorting that Canadians be taxed in new and innovative ways for the privilege of copying music for personal use.
This is not new. In 1997, a levy was applied to recordable media (blank cassettes, CD-Rs and Mini-Discs) to compensate artists for this private copying. This is why a spindle of blank CDs costs exponentially more in Canada than in the U.S. Since then, more than $150 million has been collected and distributed to over 97,000 songwriters, composers, recording artists and other rights holders â€” and here’s the best part â€””most of whom would not be able to continue their careers without this revenue.”
Legal blogger Howard Knopf pointed out the ridiculousness of this claim back in September. Divide $150 million by 97,000 and the average payout per rights holder has been about $130 PER YEAR. Subtract the $22 million that went to lawyers, auditors, administration and lobbyists and the actual number is even lower.
The Save the Levy people rightly point out that almost no one makes cassette mixtapes anymore and people are burning fewer CDs than in 1997. Therefore, it’s time to tax new things.
Like what? Well, any kind of portable music device to start. Calls for an “iPod tax” are back. How much? I’ve seen proposals asking for up to $75 per device. In other words, they want consumers to pay twice: Once with the levy and once for the CD or the download, even if you download that music file directly to your iPod.
And why stop there? What about hard drives and USB keys? Don’t use them for storing music? Too bad.
Don’t get me wrong. Our copyright laws desperately need to change with the times if we’re going to protect artists and intellectual property. But music fans and consumers need to watch what’s being proposed, too.