Nettwerk Music Group, Canada's leading privately owned record label (and a label that refuses to use copy-controls), has taken the remarkable step of joining the fight against the RIAA's strategy of lawsuits against alleged file sharers. The company, which represents some of Canada's top artists including Sarah McLachlan, Avril Lavigne, and Barenaked Ladies, has intervened in a lawsuit against a Texas teenager. The RIAA claimed thousands in damages based on alleged downloads, including Avril Lavigne's "Sk8er Boi."
Nettwerk CEO Terry McBride says in response:
Nettwerk Music Group has agreed to pay the total expense of all legal fees as well as any fines should the family lose the case against the RIAA.
Update: So "wow" isn't particularly analytical and I think this calls for a bit more. Bob Lefsetz, of the Lefsetz Letter, comments this morning that this may be the beginning of the end of the RIAA suits. Perhaps, though the cracks in the recording industry strategy can be seen with IFPI's recent acknowledgment that file sharing usage is largely unchanged over the past two years despite more than 20,000 suits along with the growing number of Canadian artists, including Matthew Good, Steve Paige of the Barenaked Ladies, and Jane Siberry, who are speaking out against the suits or seeking alternative approaches.
While I think this is a good thing, better would be the prospect of shifting the dynamics of two important debates. At the moment, copyright reform is often treated as synonymous with addressing file sharing (ie. see the Toronto Star response to the Bulte piece last weekend). This has been one of the most unfortunate side effects of file sharing as a meaningful debate on the future of music in Canada as well as the best path for copyright reform is lost amid the cries of sharing, stealing, and private copying.
We need a real discussion of music in Canada that goes beyond file sharing to include private copying, fair use, the limits on the use of DRM, the transparency of collectives, canadian content requirements in the Internet era, and support for the artists. It is a debate that must include the independent labels who are responsible for 90 percent of new Canadian music, the artists from all perspectives, and user interests. It is a debate that is about much more than file sharing.
We also need a real discussion of about copyright reform that goes beyond file sharing to include using new technologies in our schools, encouraging new creativity, as well as protecting privacy and security. It is a debate that would look to the recent Google cache decision in the United States and question whether we would get the same result in Canada. It is a debate that would look at crown copyright, statutory damages, and fair use.
If we begin to get these debates, Nettwerk's move won't be the beginning of the end. It will be the beginning of something much bigger.