The Songwriters Association of Canada proposal to fully legalize peer-to-peer file sharing by adding a $5 levy to the monthly Internet bill has generated considerable discussion over the past week. Much of that discussion has been negative with many Canadians arguing that they don't download music and should not be asked to pay $60 per year in order to do so [the National Post adds a lengthy editorial criticizing the proposal, citing, among other things, the reliance on statistics from "biased" sources, namely CRIA].
For my part, I think the proposal suffers from some significant flaws. While we all pay for services we don't use (my tax dollars support museums in other cities that I don't visit or schools that my kids don't attend), there are times when such systems are necessary for broader policy reasons. In this instance, I don't think we are there yet. Moreover, I suspect that this proposal would open the floodgates to dozens of other groups claiming similar fees. Perhaps most importantly, there are competing social goals – universally affordable broadband access is one – that could be undermined by this proposal. Notwithstanding its shortcomings, I welcome the SAC's attempt to broaden the debate. The calls for open consultation are precisely to enable all interested parties to participate in the development of copyright policies that work for Canada. Those calls have come from all sectors – education, consumer groups, business groups, creators, and the broader Canadian public.
With that in mind, I was struck by comments from the Canadian Recording Industry Association's Graham Henderson, who previously called the proposal a "pipe dream." Henderson now says the "idea has a snowball's chance in hell" and that it is "nothing more than a distraction." The comments highlight that the divide between CRIA and the emerging consensus on a balanced approach for copyright extends well beyond the substance of a future copyright bill. It also includes how we arrive at that bill. For the majority, we need discussion, debate, consultation, and the opportunity to present new approaches before a bill is introduced. For CRIA, these things are apparently viewed as nothing more than a distraction.