By Bill Henderson
Copyright is generally considered pretty dry stuff. The easiest way to get interested is to get angry. Check out Michael Geist’s blog on the subject to see how passionate some consumers can be about it, and see if you can Google up a rant from Graham Henderson of the Canadian Recording Industry Association to get a sense of the temperature on the other side. Amazing how interested we all get when our blood starts boiling.
So, let me see if I can get you upset.
On the other hand, maybe you’d be just as happy with a few quiet words on the subject from a songwriter. Songwriters are interested in copyright because we create copyrights for a living.
Yes, the Copyright Act does need to be brought up to date. But as a songwriter, my first priority is to be sure we don’t lose our rights.
It’s important to understand that unlike most workers, songwriters are not paid for their work. The agreement Canada made with songwriters a long time ago was that we could have certain rights by virtue of which we could get paid when our songs are used—not written, but used! Copyright law is the foundation of that deal. It’s how we earn a living.
My second priority is to find a way to deal with that huge unpaid use of our work called music file-sharing. About 40 billion music “file-sharings” take place each year, with no payment to music creators.
The Songwriters Association of Canada believes—and Internet technical experts agree—that unauthorized file-sharing cannot be stopped without actually shutting down the Internet. Attempts to sue it out of existence are futile. They alienate our audience, and earn us no money.
Canadian songwriters don’t want to sue file-sharers. In fact, we like file-sharing. It’s the most efficient distribution system of the largest repertoire of music ever assembled, and it’s available to virtually everyone. What’s not to love about that? We don’t want to stop it; we just want to get paid for the use of our work. We think that most music fans agree with that, and that millions of Canadians would welcome a legal way to share any and all music files.
The Songwriters Association has proposed a way to do just that. It would be voluntary for consumers, voluntary for songwriters and rights holders, and it would be administratively light. A small fee from file-sharers would be collected and distributed on a pro rata basis to all the creators and owners of the music shared.
The amount of the fee would be set by the copyright board, which would hear from all the major stakeholders including consumers, and, as long as a person isn’t sharing for financial gain, paying the fee would authorize the activity.
Many people would benefit from this system.
Songwriters, performers, record companies, and publishers would be paid for this huge use of their work and property.
Internet service providers would be able to load up their own servers with all the most popular music and save a great deal of money in bandwidth costs by providing their subscribers access to their databases of songs.
Consumers would be authorized to share copies and streams of any song in the world’s repertoire of music, at any time and on any platform, using the most up-to-date technology and could do so with one simple payment. With that payment, the shadow of illegality and threat of penalty would be removed.
Industry Minister Tony Clement and Heritage Minister James Moore should work with songwriters to implement a plan like this so that we can put the drama and hysteria behind us and allow people to enjoy music the way they want to, while ensuring that the creators of that music can earn a living.
Bill Henderson is the vice president of the Songwriters Association of Canada. The long-time singer, guitarist, songwriter, and record producer is a member of the band Chilliwack.