By Ferne Downey
At the risk of sounding nerdy, I have to say I’m happy to be spending my summer talking and writing about copyright. As a performer, Canadian copyright laws play a big part in how I make my living—or not, as the case may be. The only downer is I’d rather be talking up Bill C-32, the government’s recently introduced copyright legislation, to make sure it gets passed, not working so hard to make sure it gets amended.
Let me be clear, while the proposed bill has some fatal flaws, I think it can be fixed; it has to be fixed. As it is, Bill C-32 is only serving to pit one group against another—creators against consumers against record companies and film studios. These are false choices and will ultimately hurt all of us. There are solutions that work for consumers, artists and producers. Unfortunately, instead of seizing the opportunity to build on them; Bill C-32 kills them. Private copying is one such solution. In an increasingly digital world where collective licensing is the simplest and most flexible way of striking the balance between the rights of artists, producers, and Canadians who enjoy our work, we should be building on these solutions, not destroying them.
The last time our copyright laws were updated was in 1997. It would be another four years before the first iPods and MP3 players revolutionized music. Even still, we were already moving music around—copying our vinyl collections to CDs and making copies of our CDs to listen to in our cars. The government of the day saw that this was happening and made it legal for us to make these copies. However, they also recognized that these copies had value. When you purchase a pre-recorded CD, you are purchasing that specific copy of the music—you have not purchased the rights to the music. By introducing the private copying levy on blank media, the government reassured Canadians that they could listen to their music when they wanted where they wanted, but they also made sure artists and producers were compensated and getting revenues to keep making music.
Instead of building on this win-win-win solution, our current government has decided to legalize format-shifting without putting anything in place to compensate creators. Even worse, by not extending the private copying levy to devices Canadians use in 2010 to copy music, they are in effect killing it, and taking millions out of artists’ pockets.
Where’s the balance? We really don’t understand why any government would think this is acceptable. How else can we spell out the obvious? Copies have value. Artists deserve to get paid. Performers and artists want Canadians to consume our works. We want content to be as widely available as possible. But we also want to make a living. Users should have access to the content they want and creators should be reasonably compensated. How can the government really expect artists to take risks, be innovative, create works that inspire and challenge us, if we can’t control what we produce and don’t deserve to be paid?
Especially in today’s digital environment, copyright laws must be able to function effectively for makers, users and creators. How do we provide everyone reasonable access to content without undermining the copyrights that allow being an artist to be an economically viable profession and content production to be an engine of our digital economy? The answer is simple: collective licensing. While I’d love to take credit for the idea, collecting societies aren’t some new-fangled idea I’ve just made up—they’ve been providing steady sources of income to artists and creators all over the world for decades. Here in Canada we have a lot of catching up to do but unfortunately we seem to keep falling further behind.
We can start by working together to get Bill C-32 amended so that it’s truly technology-neutral and respects creators, consumers, and producers. Let’s keep working together for new and innovative tools to make copyright benefit us all. Building on private copying is a good first step.
Ferne Downey is the national president of ACTRA, the national union representing over 21,000 professional performers in the English-language recorded media in Canada.