The hearings into Canadian copyright have resumed at both the Industry and Canadian Heritage committees with witnesses making the case for a wide range of reforms. While Bryan Adams received the lion share of attention last week for his proposal to assist creators with quicker reversion of their rights, another proposal from the Screen Composers Guild of Canada (SCGC) deserves some scrutiny as an illustration of how many groups want new taxes or fees imposed on Internet services and technologies. I’ve written in the past about the music industry’s call for a tax on iPhones and other devices as well as its proposal for a $40 million per year taxpayer handout in until an iPhone tax can be implemented. This week the SCGC introduced a new proposal that would subject broadband data use to a copyright tax.
Members of the SCGC write the musical scores for films and television. They are paid for this work, but argue that the potential for additional public performance royalties have diminished as viewing has shifted to streaming services. Their proposed solution is establish a mandated copyright tax on all broadband data use in Canada. The group proposes that the first 15 GB of use should be tax free, suggesting that the free use will cover emails and other basic uses. For everything above that amount, the copyright tax on data would apply:
We envision a new “internet-light ISP service” that could form the exchange of revenue that we refer to as the SCGC Copyright Model (SCGC-CM). It would allow home internet users fifteen gigabytes of unlevied data per-month, enabling ample room for email, commerce and downloading, but beyond that, a copyright levy could be collected and re-mitted to a collective for distribution to copyright holders.
At committee, the group expanded on the argument:
An ISP subscription levy that would provide a minimum or provide a basic 15 gigabytes of data per Canadian household a month that would be unlevied. Lots of room for households to be able to do Internet transactions, business, share photos, download a few things, emails, no problem. But my own personal experience is that in my family, when you’re downloading and consuming over 15 gigabytes of data a month, you’re likely streaming Spotify. You’re likely streaming YouTube. You’re likely streaming Netflix. So we think because the FANG companies will not give us access to the numbers that they have, we have to apply a broad-based levy. They’re forcing us to.
The proposal is faulty on many grounds. First, increasing Internet costs will have undoubtedly have an impact on access, particularly for low-income Canadians. Second, the notion that use above 15 GB surely involves video or audio streaming misunderstands how many use the Internet today, whether for real-time gaming, online video discussions, software development, and a myriad of other activities. Third, the SCGC proposal would represent double-payment by consumers, who would pay to access the content on services such as Spotify and Netflix and pay for the transmission of the same content with the ill-advised copyright tax on broadband data.