CRIA Stands Alone

This week, HMV announced that it was reducing the price on hundreds of back-catalog CDs generating a surprising amount of news coverage (Post, CBC).  The move is good for everyone – the recording industry gets an important retail outlet to reduce prices on increasingly hard-to-find CDs (their largest retail outlets such as Wal-Mart do not carry many older titles), HMV gives a boost to music sales at a time when digital downloads, DVDs and video games command a growing share of the market, and consumers may find that the $20 sticker shock on some older CDs disappears. Yet leave it to CRIA to use the opportunity to spin this as a copyright reform story.  HMV said absolutely nothing about the issue, because high-priced, older CDs have little to do with P2P file sharing or copyright law.  CRIA's Graham Henderson claims, however, that "it's an effort to stem the tide of illegal downloading that threatens retailers and everyone else in the recording industry" and argues that other countries have reduced P2P through copyright reform while "a succession of Canadian governments have sat on their hands and done nothing."

Leaving aside the obvious – P2P is not down in other countries, HMV has not indicated that the reduced prices has anything to do with downloading, the Liberals introduced Bill C-60 in 2005, and that so-called "illegal downloading" often isn't illegal in Canada given the compensation that comes from the private copying levy – it is worth noting that these latest claims may drive a wedge between CRIA and one of its most important retail channels.  In this case, HMV generates millions in free publicity for sale prices and CRIA jumps in with misleading copyright claims that only serve to undermine the goodwill created by HMV. 

In many respects, this is nothing new.  Over the past two years, the major Canadian independent labels have left CRIA, Canadian musicians have formed their own coalition to oppose CRIA's copyright reform initiatives, Canada's leading online music retailer (Puretracks) has moved toward dropping the DRM that CRIA previously claimed was essential, and the copyright collectives have found themselves opposing CRIA on issues such as the private copying levy and ringtones.  In fact, within CRIA there is clearly differing views as two of its four key members have made moves to drop DRM from their digital download sales.  The upshot of this is that the organization that once grabbed the mantle of representing the Canadian music industry is today an increasingly isolated foreign lobby group that will have to share the stage with many others when Ottawa introduces copyright legislation.


  1. Canadian
    It appears that CBC has decided to take the FOX News approach to news gathering by simply reprinting corporate new releases and presenting erroneous statements from CRIA representatives as fact.

    I dropped the CBC a comment and suggested that they might can contacted you Michael in order to provide a more balanced news article about the issue.

  2. Dwight Williams says:

    I don’t think we need to worry…
    Professor Geist will almost certainly be contacted by CBC about this.

  3. Right, turn to the good professor because Michael Geist\\\’s coverage of the issue is so multi-faceted. Make me gag. He only supports one side of this issue.

  4. I stopped in to the HMV on Yonge in T.O. on Saturday. Yes, some stock is prominently marked as price reduced. Stale stock, Overpriced stock. Case in point Anne Murray – Signature Series: Reg. 25.99 marked down to $19.99. sells it for $16.71. This is a clearance sale promoted as a visionary benevolence.

  5. Michelle Finch says:

    I concur with the comment that HMV’s “reduction” is no reduction at all. Catalog titles are now at full list, and marked down, when before the regular price was based on a percentage of list. The end result might actually be costing the consumer more.

    What’s worse, some of the titles now selling for $20+ are not catalog at all, they are recently released titles that are not “big” enough to be ordered by the boxload and racked. Debut releases, or albums by grassroots acts that could use the price break to encourage consumers to take a chance, are priced at $20 or more. How is this helping the music industry or dedicated music outlets? How long until we again hear the cries that no one is buying music?

  6. You miss the point Bobby
    The point is that by interviewing Prof. Geist on the issue, the CBC represents both sides of the story, instead of just the CRIA’s rhetoric. I don’t think the original comment was suggesting that Prof. Geist’s views were unbiased, rather that his interview put the CRIA’s opinions in perspective.

  7. What Point is That?
    What point is that, DC? The point that artists deserve to have their songs taken freely on a regular basis without being compensated in any way? Is that the point you’d like to see Mr. Geist support?
    I’m looking forward to the day Geist writes a book worth publishing so I can steal off a shelf and deny him any compensation. Maybe I’d make a PDF of it and share it on the Web….

  8. Michael Geist says:

    Big B/Bobby

    It isn’t clear to me how $200 million in private copying revenues is the equivalent of taking songs without compensation, but no matter. If you’re looking for a book of mine, please see In The Public Interest: The Future of Canadian Copyright Law, published by Irwin Law. You are invited to deny me any compensation as the entire book can be purchased or freely downloaded in PDF form at


  9. Michael: You’re not actually naive enough to think that the private copying revenue actually cover all the lost revenue associated with downloading, are you? The money lost not only by the record companies, but the publishers, etc? I think the private copying levy system was poor from the start, but it was set up to deal with another reality — taping, not digital downloading of hundreds of albums. It is outdated, and at the very least needs to be altered to fit the current reality. Has it covered all the losses from downloading? Not even close. Should it be done away with and musicians and recording companies paid fairly? Yes.

    Beyond the crew of NDP-supporting musicians (one of whom has sold millions of albums in a previous era and therefore can do as they like), have you actually spoken to acts out on the road? The lack of music sales has forced them all out to play live, flooding the market and therefore lowering the prices/size of shows. It isn’t a fix for the problem either.

    And beyond free digital downloading, what would account for the sudden dip in CD sales this year? Have people simply stopped buying Dark Side of the Moon? Or Revolver?

    I guess I’ve never understood your opposition to reworking this country’s copyright act in order to see if it has any impact on free downloading. You could well be right and it won’t. But I fail to see the damage that is done if the law is altered to reflect the current situation.

    Oh, and thanks for the book suggestion. My book club was looking for a scintillating read….

  10. Michael Geist says:


    Has private copying covered all lost revenues from downloading? Well, I hope you’re not naïve enough to think that the declining sales from the major labels is solely the result of downloading. There are lots of factors at play (retail changes, competition from other entertainment products, end of replacement cycle) and I think that downloading has helped some artists and hurt others. Given the royalty rates for artists, I don’t think there is much doubt that they have been at least adequately compensated by private copying.

    As for your other questions, I have talked to other artists but I wonder if you’ve spoken to the nearly 200 acts in the CMCC to identify their political affiliation, which seems to me to be totally irrelevant as copyright is not a left or right issue.

    With regard to reworking Canada’s copyright law, your inability to understand the implications of CRIA’s proposed reforms – which have nothing to do with downloading BTW – is precisely why you ought to spend some time reading In the Public Interest. You may not find it as scintillating as reading CRIA press releases, but it would ensure that your perspective is a better informed one.

  11. I know all those trees are in the way but I’m just flabbergasted on your ability to miss the forest. Let’s take it step by step, shall we?

    First of all, can you please finally supply the exact and decisive accounting on how much revenue has been lost due to downloading? To say that $200M doesn’t even come close to covering that amount, it must be obvious that you have an exact figure with which to enlighten us. Since the industry itself can’t agree on an amount and so many studies from non-industry sources indicate that it’s “statistically indistinguishable from zero,” it’ll be refreshing to see some hard science and data to back up these “massive” losses.

    The breakdown on the private copying levy reimbursement is 66% for authors and publishers and 34% for record companies and (theoretically) artists. To quote the 2005 Economic Profile report to Canadian Heritage: “The main sources of copyright revenue in Canada for songwriters and publishers are performing rights, mechanical rights and private copying. In 2004, the four main Canadian copyright collectives took in over $290 million in copyright royalties, which included $200 million in performing rights, $50 million in mechanical rights, and $40 million collected from blank media.” Sales? Account for a mere 0.4 % of revenue to publishers. Why on earth are you trying to steal $40M of revenue from these poor souls by saying the private copying levy should “be done away with?”

    What makes you think that these NDP-supporting musicians (my, that adds a lot to your argument) are not out on the road? I just checked the websites of several of the members of CCMA (sorry, didn’t have time to check up on all 179 members), they all seem to have tour dates listed. Can you please list the obviously well-known acts that you have spoken to who believe that they could just make a living on CD sales and not touring? If you’re worried about the tour market saturating, I would be pointing the finger at the “comeback” or “classic” bands. Rolling Stones Magazine put out the Top Money Makers in the industry in 2005 and, of the top 10, only 2 (Jimmy Buffet and Linkin Park) had put out an album (other than a standards album) in 2004. That didn’t include Prince, who built a $10 CD surcharge into his tour ticket prices, so that every person who attended the concert walked away his album (I wonder if he supports the NDP?)

    Dropping CD revenues are attributed to many things (Walmart prices, competition for entertainment dollars), but I believe the most glaring cause for the drop in overall revenues has been well documented by the CRIA. Rampant piracy? Lawless counterfeiting? Nope. How about lack of content. According to the CRIA statistics page on their website, the number of units (CD, DVD, and other) shipped this year to date (June 2007) is 20 % less than to date June 2006, which was 7 % less than 2005, which was 4 % less than 2004. In the month of June 2007 alone, 25 % less units were shipped when compared to June 2006. Keep in mind that we’re well past the anniversary of the “unCanadianizing” of the CRIA by Netwerk, True North, et al. I’m not an accountant, but I think that less product put forward = less revenue is pretty obvious. By the way, that 25 % reduction in June included a 65 % reduction of “other”, which includes formats such as cassettes, CD singles, VHS music videos and DVD-Audio. I must have missed your rant on protecting the livelihood of VHS manufacturers or cassette tape salesmen, since you seem to be adamant on preserving outdated business lines and models.

    Edit: I see Prof Geist has responded while I was typing this monster.

  12. Causal relationship
    Mike B,

    I wouldn’t even attempt to argue the statistics so kindly provided by CRIA or even the revenue breakdown of the copying levy, but I will definitely state that I have never seen any direct evidence that illegal downloading was the direct cause of declining shipping of music.
    Shipping statistics don’t take into account the numbers of legal music downloads.
    It doesn’t take into account the declining number of repurchases due to not having to replace damaged physical media.
    It certainly will never admit being due to consumer dissatisfaction with DRM or TPM measures taken by the major labels.
    Most importantly, it will never be able to account for losses due to independent artists producing quality material as opposed to industry mandated, formulaic, tripe that drives “consumers” away in droves.

    Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are more pliable — Mark Twain

  13. Steve,

    The CRIA has just titled that particular webpage as “Statistics.” It is just a report on the number of units shipped that month and year to date (plus value of shipments), month and year to date of the previous year, and then the percent difference (+ or -).

    My point was that if you reduce the amount of product you ship, you should be expecting losses of revenue proportional to the value of the difference of that shipment when compared to your previous shipment. Case in point, according to the CRIA webpage (won’t use the “s” word again) year to date for March showed a reduction of 30 % units shipped, equivalent to a value of shipment difference of 35 %. What’s the first CRIA press release after March? Music sales fall 35 % in first quarter.

    All valid reasons given for reduction of sales/shipments in your post.