The Private Copying Survey

The Canadian Private Copying Collective is out with an Environics survey it commissioned on Canadians' attitudes toward the private copying levy.  While I give full marks to the CPCC for releasing the survey results in full (presumably it would have been made available as part of their submission to the Copyright Board anyway), it is time to declare a moratorium on the use of polls as policymaking.  As I have noted before, CRIA's regular Pollara polls are rendered useless by virtue of the omission of key questions, inconsistent results, and the lack of public awareness on the issues.

This CPCC study falls into the same category.
Apparently it is being used to convince the Copyright Board that Canadians think that the levy is reasonable (indeed they would be comfortable if it was double the current rate) and that they're all for a $40 levy on MP3 players.  Yet you don't even have to scratch the surface to see how this survey is meaningless.  Of the survey respondents, 70 percent haven't copied songs onto a blank CD, 80 percent haven't copied songs onto an MP3 player, 66 percent haven't bought any blank CDs, and 80 percent were not aware of the levy – a survey pool which (even if it is representative) seems unlikely to be able to render informed opinions about the reasonableness of the levy and blank CD pricing.

Further, there is missing information from the questions.  For example:

  • The survey asks if 50 cents is reasonable for a blank CD, but fails to ask whether the respondent thinks that 40 percent or more of the sale price should be levy. 
  • The survey notes that some other countries have levy schemes, but fails to note that countries like the U.S. treat this form of personal copying as fair use.

More importantly, there are the unasked questions:

  • What percentage of your blank CDs are used for recorded music?
  • Do you think it is fair that the levy covers all blank CDs, regardless of their use?
  • Are you aware that private copying does not distinguish between the source of recorded music and may include P2P systems? 
  • Do you think it is fair that the recording industry seeks to label such copying as infringing?
  • Are you aware of how the levy is distributed?
  • Do you think it is fair that foreign artists are not compensated in the same way as Canadians?
  • Are you aware that even with the levy you are not currently permitted to copy to your iPod?
  • Are you aware that the government is contemplating copyright legislation that would stop you from making copies to a blank CD if the recording industry uses copy-blocking technologies?

Commissioned surveys by self-interested stakeholders that strive for a specific result do nothing to benefit our understanding of the issues. It is time for policy makers and agencies like the Copyright Board to stop accepting them as part of their policy process.


  1. Perhaps such survey evidence should be put to the courts to interpret as they do, for example, in trademark law cases. Survey evidence is very strictly controlled, as are the inferences that can be drawn from them.

  2. Just for a baseline, I checked around my house, and found 53 copied CDs. Precisely 7 of them contained music. Most of them, in fact, contained powerpoint presentations, including 3 of the 7 that also had music. The rest were files being transfered between computers. Files generated by me that is. Do I get a piece of any levy?

  3. Deal…
    I have a deal for the music industry: collect your levies and leave P2P sharing alone forever or drop the levies and start giving us real choices when it comes to buying music online. Hell, I would love nothing more than to pay for music in a legit way if the price was right ($1/song might be reasonable for one song, but a whole album shouldn\’t be more than 5$ when bought online IMHO) and FREE OF DRM. When I buy a CD, I am free to use the raw bits to make whatever compressed format I want so why should buying online be any different?

  4. 10 year voyage continues…
    Now that this gravy train has been barreling down the track for a whole decade, there’s likely precious little chance it will ever come to a stop. And, with so many conductors and collectors all with their hands in it, it is a very complex revenue engine. The only predictable change might be the ‘thickening’ of the gravy (increases in levies) creeping up penny by penny. Don’t believe historically there has ever been a case where the Board has decreased, or eliminated a tarrif altogether. While this particular one needs to be scrapped simply on the principal that it is universal taxation regardless of what the intended use of the blank media IS… that occuring is highly unlikely, and OMG it would put SO many people with a vested interest in the CPCC entirely without research monies to spend!!

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