With new trade agreements, a new government, new court cases, and new rules governing the Internet, law and technology issues garnered headlines all year long. My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) takes a look back at 2015 from A to Z:
A is for the Ashley Madison data breach, which affected millions of people and placed the spotlight on online privacy.
B is for Bill C-51, the anti-terrorism bill, which became a flashpoint political issue on striking the right balance between surveillance and civil liberties.
C is for CBC v. SODRAC, a Supreme Court of Canada decision released in November that reinforced the significance of technological neutrality in copyright. The court sided with SODRAC, a copyright collective, on the need for payment for certain uses of music but ruled that an earlier rate-setting exercise had failed to account for the technological neutrality principle.
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Appeared in the Toronto Star on December 28, 2015 as A Year of Big Breaches And Even Bigger Bills With new trade agreements, a new government, new court cases, and new rules governing the Internet, law and technology issues garnered headlines all year long. A look back at 2015 from […]
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The Competition Tribunal has granted leave to Stargrove Entertainment, the Canadian music label that has published public domain recordings from the artists such as the Beatles, to pursue a Competition Tribunal complaint against some of the giants of the music industry. The complaint targets the Canadian Music Reproduction Rights Agency (CMRRA), Universal Music, Sony Music, and several music publishers. I wrote earlier about Stargrove’s complaint and noted the backroom lobbying campaign that succeeded in obtaining a copyright term extension in Canada for sound recordings.
Despite strong opposition from the music industry, the Tribunal granted leave to pursue a complaint of price maintenance in violation of the Competition Act. The Tribunal concluded:
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Earlier this year, I wrote about the secret campaign by major record labels and publishers to stop the release of public domain recordings, most notably Beatles records that outsold the offerings from major label records at retail giant Wal-Mart. The campaign included extensive lobbying for an extension in the term of copyright for sound recordings. The government included the extension in the April 2015 budget, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper writing personally to the Graham Henderson of Music Canada to inform him of the change. The reforms were a gift to the recording industry, with the result that Canadian consumers now face higher prices and less choice.
Stargrove Entertainment, the company behind the public domain Beatles releases, has found that the industry is still blocking attempts to bring works in the public domain to market. As a result, this week it filed a complaint with the Canadian Competition Tribunal, claiming that major record labels such as Universal Music and Sony Music, music publishers, and CMRRA are violating Canadian competition law by refusing to deal, engaging in illegal price maintenance, and exclusive dealing. The company is seeking an order requiring the companies to provide a mechanical licence so that it can continue to produce and sell public domain records. The complaint (CT-2015-009) should be posted on the Tribunal site shortly.
The complaint tells a fascinating behind-the-scenes tale, with the recording industry doing everything in its powers – including posting false reviews and pressuring distributors – to stop the sale of competing records. The complaint notably identifies Universal Music Canada as a key player in the alleged activities, including former President Randy Lennox, who last week jumped to Bell Media.
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As the negative coverage of the government’s surprise decision to extend the term of copyright for sound recordings and performances mounts (Billboard, National Post), it is worth remembering that it is Canadian consumers that will bear the costs with decreased choice and increased prices. I touch on this in my weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version), but a more detailed discussion is warranted (see here, here, and here for previous posts on the proposed extension).
The question of competition and consumer costs was addressed in several leading European reports on intellectual property and term extension. The University of Cambridge’s Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Law reviewed the economic evidence related to term extension for sound recordings, stating:
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