The Supreme Court of Canada’s latest copyright decision – SOCAN v. Entertainment Software Association – affirms yet again that technological neutrality is a foundational element of the law and notably emphasizes that “copyright law does not exist solely for the benefit of authors.” My colleague Jeremy de Beer was an active participant in the case, writing an expert opinion during the Copyright Board phase of the case which reflects the approach that the court ultimately adopted. He joins the Law Bytes podcast to discuss the evolution of music distribution online, this latest case and the court’s commitment to copyright balance, as well as what might come next in the seemingly never-ending battle over Canadian copyright law.
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The Law Bytes Podcast, Episode 136: Jeremy de Beer on SOCAN v. ESA, the Supreme Court’s Latest Endorsement of Copyright Balance and Technological Neutrality
Supreme Court of Canada on Copyright: “Copyright Law Does Not Exist Solely for the Benefit of Authors”
For much of the past two decades, copyright groups have steadfastly sought to deny what the Supreme Court of Canada has repeatedly endorsed, namely that the purpose of Canadian copyright law is to serve the public interest by balancing users’ and authors’ rights. Last week provided the latest episode in the ongoing series as the Court delivered yet another strong affirmation on the importance of copyright balance and the role of technological neutrality, confirming that “[c]opyright law does not exist solely for the benefit of authors.” The decision – SOCAN v. Entertainment Software Association – can read on at least four levels: (1) as a repudiation of SOCAN’s effort to establish a new, additional royalty for the “making available” of music; (2) as a confirmation of the importance of technological neutrality and copyright balance; (3) as an example of the flexibility associated with implementing the WIPO Internet treaties, and (4) as the undeniable entrenchment of Canadian copyright jurisprudence that now features deeply layered precedents on users’ rights.
Canada’s Internet Music Success Story: SOCAN’s Canadian Internet Streaming Revenues Surpass Radio Royalties
While the music industry continues to focus on a so-called “value gap” that does not reflect the state of Canadian law, mounting data also suggests that it does not provide an accurate depiction of the revenues being generated in Canada today from Internet streaming. SOCAN, Canada’s largest music copyright collective, last week reported preliminary numbers for 2018, with the data indicating that Internet streaming revenues have now hit $62 million, likely surpassing both radio and television royalties as its second largest source of domestic revenues. In fact, Internet streaming now accounts for 22 per cent of SOCAN’s domestic revenues and will almost certainly become its largest domestic revenue source in 2019.
Music industry lobby groups may frequently seek to equate the Internet with lost revenues, but an examination of financial data from one of Canada’s largest music copyright collectives demonstrates massive growth in earnings arising from Internet streaming including major services such as Youtube and Apple Music. While many collectives do not publicly disclose their revenues, SOCAN, which represents composers, songwriters, and music publishers, provides a detailed breakdown of revenues and distributions in its annual report.
Copyright has not received much attention during the election campaign, but a recent survey by SOCAN raises questions about support for copyright term extension. The issue is particularly confusing in the case of the NDP, since it opposes the TPP (which would require term extension and keep works out of the public domain for decades) but it seems to be willing to entertain the prospect of copyright term extension. SOCAN asked whether the parties would be willing to extend the term of copyright to life of the author (or composer) plus 70 years. The NDP’s response:
The NDP welcomed the government changes in Budget 2015 to extend the term of copyright for performers. We understand there is now discrepancy between performers and songwriters. The NDP is committed to reviewing the Copyright Act in 2017 as the Act requires. We would look to make these key legislative changes in our first year of mandate. These are among the changes we would be looking into.