The SAC “Distraction”

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.


  1. Is there any particular reason why
    the songwriters would not be eligible for a portion of the CPCC? Assuming that the songwriters get a royalty from album sales and radio play, then should they not then get a cut of the artist’s portion of the CPCC? Presumably the contracts were written in such a manner as to be a portion of the revenues from the song, as opposed to a portion of the album sales. If it was written in the latter manner, then why should we pay for the writers screw-up?

  2. Greedy Rats
    5$ a month for music is more than what I spend on music in 3 months.

    Also 5$ month is way to high. Canada’a largest ISP Sympatico alone has something like 2 million subscribers. So in essense the Songwriters Association of Canada is asking for 10-million dollars per month!

    Please excuse me when I say WTF!! 10-million dollars monthly? ARE THEY INSANE! …and thats just ONE ISP.

    Lets not play dumb here, the GREEDY Songwriters Association of Canada is well aware of the financial gain by trivializing the amount per month.

    Why not just tax on 50-cents per month instead. Is 12-million yearly from one ISP alone not enough for these greedy rats?

    Heck i’d rather pay 5$ per month in a health care tax or a tax to fund cancer research. think about the money here… 5$/month is PURE greed.

    Their greed doesn’t phase me one bit though. Does it for you?

  3. These greedy rats are of course the rats whose music you want to listen to

  4. PorkBellyFutures says:


    “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.”

    There is a very large difference between paying for public services you don’t use through tax dollars and paying for private services you don’t use through levies.

    If the government wants to subsidize Canadian musicians and songwriters for the sake of strengthening Canadian culture or cultural industries, then most of us would consider that acceptable. But putting a compulsory levy on a service to pay for an unrelated product amounts to the government deciding the terms and amount of payment between consumers and producers. This is extremely inefficient, as any economist could readily explain to you.

  5. The problem is when some of the companies within the PRIVATE sector are trying to influence the way the people should access Internet which is widely accessed by the “PUBBLIC”. Banning P2P network, paying accessing fees, deciding what you share or publish. Is it all this their business?

  6. Is Nothing Something?
    … “There is a chance that the government will say, none of these people can agree on anything. Therefore we will do nothing,” said Henderson. …

    If there is no real agreement on what to do, isn’t “nothing” *exactly* the right thing to do?

  7. Why make it mandatory ?
    A lot of the objections to this kind of levy disappear if it is opt-in. I’m sure many people who do a lot of filesharing would be willing to pay $5 a month to know that they can’t be sued for it, and the CRIA wouldn’t then get as much bad press if they sued somebody who had decided not to pay but had continued to fileshare.

  8. I don’t think anyone can imagine the vast array of wonderful new network services that will be enabled by a collective license like this. Of all those who say they don’t want to pay to download, how many of them would use services that can’t legally be invented yet? Quite a few, I’d imagine.

  9. Music Stuck in a Rut…..
    This argument is getting old, and rather like a skipping record don’t you think? Some one’s stylus is stuck in a rut and it ain’t coming back out.

    Aren’t SONGWRITERS covered by the Society of Composers Authors and Music Publishers of Canada – i.e. SOCAN? And, didn’t SOCAN already ask for big ca$h back from ISPs, and didn’t the Supreme Court say “NO”? And didn’t SOCAN even have the gumption to try it a second time? This SAC suggestion isn’t really any different. Moreover WHY do we keep putting up with this endless game of Music-go-Round the game board trying to collect money each time they pass “GO”..?

    Consumers need to start getting angry. Enough already! This argument about downloading is TEN years old. It is time for those who haven’t already, to move on and figure out a new way to conduct business. Last we checked, society does not OWE ANY ONE a living. If you can’t figure out how to make make money doing something – even if you used to be able to make money doing it – then perhaps it is time to do something else?

    … Milk doesn’t get delivered to the doorstop in glass pints any more either and those delivery guys certainly went on to do something else, and ya know what? The majority of them probably did OK.

  10. The biggest problem I have with this is not a $5 fee that is being tacked on to internet service as much as I could see it weakening copyright as a whole… that is, if it is legal to share videos and music, then it should similarly be legal to share digital copies of books (scanned page by page, perhaps) copyrighted software, or anything else copyrighted. Trying to restrict it to just music or videos wouldn’t really work because in the end everything that is shared on a computer is just 0’s and 1’s anyways… what _WE_ happen to label it is only an entirely artificial manifestation, produced as a result of how the end user might happen to use that data (this is the primary reason why trying to impose legal limits on what you are allowed to do with technology with regards to accessing content is so potentially problematic.

  11. What about the rest…
    I would support a 5 buck a month “tax” for everything thats shared, but not just for music.

    Because there are also, Movies, TV Shows, Comics, Books, Audio books, Pictures, Software, Games…

    will each group get 5 bucks tacked on? If so theres an extra $40 bucks a month not including the 5 for music. And I’m sure there are groups out there that I forgot about that would want their 5 bucks a month.

    This is the main reason why this kind of thing would never work.

    But as was said before, at least they are thinking outside the box.

  12. Wrong place, wrong price
    There\’s preciously little information about the SAC on the net. Apparently they receive funding from the Department of Canadian Heritage so they might not be doing too well 🙁 I also notice that the SAC site is careful not to give you any history of their organisation and no one has bothered to put any information on Wikipedia. Who are these guys? There\’s a lot of other songwriting organisations out there and I worry that they\’ll all want a tax. I certainly wish them well, but it\’s amazing how a little known organizaion can get a voice on the net. Kinda cool actually.

    I believe that artists should be funded, but through ISP charges is as crazy as through the road tax. As an artist myself, I also believe that all people are creative, and songwriters are not special in that respect. In fact some of them display a lot less creativity than many tradespeople! Nor am I sure that their term \”compensation\” is even valid. All people, however, deserve to make a living.

    When it comes to downloading music, I have found that it is not so easy as they seem to think. Just to check, I went looking for a couple of pieces this evening. After half an hour I ended up with nothing that I wanted. It\’s a lot of trouble to find stuff. The worst part is that even when you find something interesting, all they offer is a pre-recorded version. That\’s the eqivelant of pre-compiled with no source code. Being musically literate, I usually want sheet music, and that still costs money. I\’d be willing to pay something through taxes, but for $60 a year they\’d have to give out the \”source code\” or I wouldn\’t get my money\’s worth. Maby my ISP could give me a voucher that I could take the store 🙂

  13. For me personally, 5$ a month would be worth it. I know I’d get my money’s worth. I can see the downside for people who don’t use peer to peer, but I imagine most ppl would get comfortable with it pretty quick.

  14. Nick, if that were acceptable, then what would be the incentive for publishers to publish something in the first place, if they did not have any legal protection on exclusivity? The publisher might only sell a handful of real copies before the work is being shared on the internet so widely that they are unable to continue to profit from the work. The result would be that works which were not expected to make a lot of money beforehand would not get published… and all the little guys would have to self-publish. In the age of the internet this may not seem like such a bad idea, but unfortunately on the internet, everybody is _still_ not equal. Take, for example, a person that tries to self-publish, but lacks the distribution bandwidth to get to many people, and somebody else with a higher distribution bandwidth happens to decide to share it for free themselves. Again, this removes any financial incentives to publish. Sure, other reasons for publishing exist, but you will still lose a lot of potentially worthwhile content, and a large portion of the remainder would get virtually lost in the worthless heap of junk that is already out there on the internet, with no means of making themselves stand out.

    Ole, downloading sheet music would be just as easy as downloading a prerecorded song if file-sharing of copyrighted files without authorization were made legit. One could scan the sheet music into a computer and share the images. As I said before, all digital data is just 0’s and 1’s, so in the end, so there’s absolutely no physical difference between them and no technological means of enforcement short of shutting down residential internet access completely (which would have a snowball’s chance in hell of being successful).

  15. R. Bassett Jr. says:

    “The result would be that works which were not expected to make a lot of money beforehand would not get published…”

    by big publishing houses to make money directly, perhaps.

    Instead, works may be “published” by the creater on the creator’s website (or another site or many sites) without having to go through the publishing process. If the work is any good, perhaps in the future the creator will be hired in some capactity to create something (think “Chad Vader”) or, as is the case with Homestar Runner / Strongbad and Star Wars, the creator will be able to make money selling merchandise. George Lucas new merchandising was the key to making money on Star Wars way back in the 70s and he was completely right to ensure he held the merchandising rights to Star Wars.

    Heaven forbid that people actually have to DO something to recieve compensation. Recording a song or making a movie once should not constitute a perpetual performance, regardless of how much effort went into the production intially. As such, it should only be legal to charge people money for engaging in the experience of the production, through such things as theatre tickets and food (where one is experiencing a night out) and merchandise (where one recieves a lasting physical catalyst for the imagination). A DVD is considered merchandise and many people enjoy owning physical merchandise, even though the media itself may be obtainable for free.

    The great publishing houses of the past may be required to change their business model as well. Should we consider subsidising them as well or should they be forced to change along with all other industries in the “free market”. A lot of this discussion boils down to sour grapes and a fear of change on the part of all parties involved.

  16. idiots
    yah know at the facebook site i gave complete way this could be achieved YET ALL YOU NOOBS AND IDIOTS DERAIL IT .
    I want to see the lawsuits like the USA
    i want musicans to make so little like they do now.
    I want you all to be in prisons and get traffic shaped so bad that dial up is the new highspeed.

  17. It would require more than just that the work be any good, it would also require that the creator actually have access to the distribution bandwidth necessary to put him or her on equal distribution capabilities with other publishers, which an unknown guy is not likely to have. Only the very very lucky would get noticed. The only reason publishers are willing to take on the risks of publishing an unknown authors works at all is because they at least have a legal guarantee in the form of copyright restrictions that ensures that if anybody else _does_ copy the work, the publisher will have the right to sue them and be compensated.

    Self publication is extraordinarily problematic without copy restrictions because there is nothing stopping a larger publisher from taking over the publication of some smaller guys work without giving the original author any compensation whatsoever. The larger publisher profits from the recognition that they receive for distributing the work, and why would they even have to credit the original author? Copyright is the only assurance an author has of not only receiving compensation for their work if they want it, but also even receiving any credit.

  18. Everything created is “copyright” by the creator and/or the owner. If Celine makes a song today, it’s copyright © 2008 Somy BMG Music Canada. If I make a website today, it’s copyright © 2008 Fedge. Copyright exists, for a limited time, so a rights owner can claim exclusive sales from that work. If someone were to scan a book page by page and sell it on their own, the copyright owner can sue the copier. If someone scans a book they borrowed from the library and keeps it in their personal collection, that’s not a copyright offense. If I download a movie off the net that I missed on my TMN subscription, that is not a copyright offense.

    Perhaps the CRIAs and RIAAs should go after the insiders who leak movies and music themselves. There’s a glut of Oscar films available on the net in pristine quality and these are movies still in theatres. How did these DVD quality still-in-theatres movies get online??? INDUSTRY INSIDERS!

  19. How long before RIAA/there lobby whores demand same thing as well as the MPAA.Then another other group that can form an acronym will demand there share…

  20. Steve Buell says:

    ISP Notification
    For those of us on the edge of ISP affordability, this could be a killer.
    If I can’t afford the extra “thief tax”, I’d cancel my total service (net, phone, cable).
    BTW, I don’t steal; music, software, movies, or any other legally protected works (Idiots and marketers use the term “Intellectual Property”!).
    $2000 a year loss might not be that pleasant to my ISP.
    I don’t think that the “edge case” scenario has been fully considered.
    Many, many people would rather do without than be done over.