My weekly Law Bytes column (Toronto Star version, Ottawa Citizen version, homepage version) focuses on last month's Copyright Board decision that re-opens the door to placing a levy of up to $75 on iPods as part of the private copying levy. I note that the case may create a sense of déjà vu, since it marks the second time that the Canadian Private Copying Collective, the collective that has pocketed more than $150 million from the levy since 2000, has sought to include iPods within the levy system. It first introduced an iPod levy in 2003, only to have the Federal Court of Appeal strike it down as the court declared that "it is for Parliament to decide whether digital audio recorders such as MP3 players are to be brought within the class of items that can be levied. . .as [the law] now reads, there is no authority for certifying a levy on such devices or the memory embedded therein."
Notwithstanding the Court's unambiguous language, the CPCC reintroduced the iPod levy earlier this year, arguing that the MP3 player comments were "obiter"(a legal reference to a passing remark that does not form a necessary part of the court's decision). Canadian retailers and storage media companies unsurprisingly challenged that interpretation, leading to last month's ruling that sided with the CPCC. The Copyright Board did not mince words, suggesting that the levy could also be applied to cellphones and personal computers, and warning that excluding the iPod from the levy system would "instantly makes the conduct of millions of Canadians illegal, and even possibly criminal."
The decision will presumably be appealed, virtually guaranteeing years of litigation that promises to divert millions of dollars earmarked for artists to lawyers instead. While the legal challenges are important, the political repercussions carry greater significance since they may lead to dramatic changes to both the levy and the Copyright Board.