Jill Golick: Private copy levy presents solution to Canadian copyright woes

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      I’m a screenwriter. I write for television and the web, and I’m lucky enough to make a reasonably good living. I pay a mortgage and taxes, send kids to camp and tap lessons, and keep the local sushi restaurant in business. In other words, I’m a contributing member of our society. The money I make writing goes back into the economy.

      Copyright protects my ownership in my writing, allowing me to make a living from it. But the proposed changes in Bill C-32 to how copyright currently works take rights away from me and will make paying the mortgage a whole lot harder.

      I’m not alone. Thousands of artists work in the creative industries and rely on the protections of the Copyright Act: writers, musicians, actors, and photographers among them. Our work is easily reproduced, and copyright is a way of saying, “I made this and I have a right to profit from it when others make copies.”

      We need to modernize Canadian copyright law. The digital era is making it easier than ever to copy my work. Backing up, time-shifting, and moving content from one storage medium to another are normal activities that people perform every day. I’m glad that the proposed revisions to the law decriminalize these activities.

      Making these kinds of copies should be legal; it just shouldn’t be free.

      New copyright legislation should balance the needs of the creator and the consumer. With the legalization of time-shifting and format-shifting, consumers get the green light on PVRs, DVD recorders, hard-drive storage, iPods, and more. Not only that but the expansion of “private purposes” means that people can share all the music and films and audiobooks they have with all their friends. Great.

      But my kids still need braces. By failing to give creators and copyright holders any way to profit from these new legal uses, the government is taking money right out of our pockets.

      And not only does the proposed legislation require us to subsidize individual users, but we also have to give our work away in large quantities to educational institutions. The government wouldn’t think of letting students go into shops and help themselves to pens, paper, and erasers without paying for them just because they need them for school. So why is it okay to do this with the work of writers, directors, photographers, and other artists?

      There is a good alternate solution available. A solution that balances the needs of digital consumers with those of creators. That gives users expanded fair access and gives makers some revenue. And it’s a solution that is already in use in Canada today: that workable model is private copying.

      Right now, when you buy a blank cassette or a recordable CD, you pay a small levy. You probably don’t even know that it’s included in the purchase price. But this small amount buys you the right to copy material to a recordable CD or tape cassette. The levy money is distributed among music copyright holders.

      CD or tape cassette sounds pretty old-school now, but this levy was introduced when these were the state-of-the-art recordable media and we were all dancing the Macarena. You pay this levy today when you buy a recordable CD (or cassette, if you can find one), but not when you buy a hard drive, iPod, smartphone, PVR, or any of the other storage media in common use today.

      Why not extend the private copy levy to all storage media? The act of copying is the same, no matter what the destination medium. Consumers would have the right to copy with ease and creators and copyright holders would get paid for their work.

      There’s another important benefit. A technology-neutral private copy levy would mean that the Copyright Act would adapt to the ever-changing technological landscape and wouldn’t have to be rewritten every few years.

      We need new copyright laws. They should be fair and forward-looking. They should provide additional uses to consumers, but balance them with a technology-neutral private copy levy that compensates creators for those new uses.

      Then you can download a TV show to your hard drive or record it to your PVR to watch later, burn an audiobook to a DVD to listen to in the car, or copy a movie onto your child’s iTouch. And I’ll be able to pay the roofer who’s re-shingling my house as I write.

      Jill Golick, a screenwriter, is president of the Writers Guild of Canada, a national organization representing more than 2,000 professional screenwriters working in English-language TV, film, and digital media.



      John West

      Nov 5, 2010 at 3:58pm

      I have been writing and recording music for years. I am registered with SOCAN and Music BC and have had songs played on various radio stations. I have never seen a dime from the money that is collected for blank media sales. Or from the monies collected from SOCAN's fee that is collected by them whenever a public music event is held... just sayin


      Nov 5, 2010 at 4:30pm

      As a person who produces copyrightable material every day (photography, writing), I don't get this article or believe its outcome. Simply because I don't see how these kinds of levies would filter down to my level (very specialist work, very small market). Big labels and the Canadian version of RIAA got the CD/tape levies in place, and reap the benefits from that. I have several musician friends, and they certainly have never seen a dime.

      I am a strong believer in copyright, but also with reasonable limits; the current state of copyright laws in the US and Canada are absolutely ridiculous with their decades (and soon to be century) long terms; I believe this is more of a detriment to smaller copyright holders than any kind of copying, trading, downloading is. If the general public knew that copyrights were a 15, 20, 25 year thing and eventually artistic works would enter the public domain within a reasonable time, they'd be more willing to pay for something they want now (or find something that is copyright free, but potentially out of date) and less likely to illegally trade, download, etc.

      Artists are also their own worst enemy on these kinds of things. Many of my peers cut their teeth in still life photography getting those $1000 shots (ie, one photo for $1K, a 10 photo spread for $5-10K) when some magazines and even a few newspapers used to pay those kinds of rates back in the 1990s and early 2000s. Back when photo stock agencies would charge $500 for one stock photo. Greed and unrealistic price grabs in many ways damaged our industry more than anything else - why pay $500 for a stock photo when a quick image search on flickr would reap nearly-as-good imagery for pseudo-free? But I firmly believe that if my industry had fostered then maintained a fair, equitable, and partially volume based pricing model, many photographers today would be making a great living, instead of moving onto other things, or settling for moving their entire portfolios onto 30% commission bucket stock agencies selling images today for $10 or less.

      The problem isn't always the downloader. And the problem isn't solved by what the top money-makers in the creative industry want (levies). The problem has many facets - unrealistic copyright laws that are unfair to the consumer, unrealistic pricing models, and unrealistic demands to continue to manufacture money off of something created 20, 30 or more years ago. All these things drive the general public to renege on the artist / buyer deal and find the free route.

      Michael Castanaveras

      Nov 5, 2010 at 9:38pm

      "The government wouldn’t think of letting students go into shops and help themselves to pens, paper, and erasers without paying for them just because they need them for school. So why is it okay to do this with the work of writers, directors, photographers, and other artists?"

      When the time comes that students can use some sort of technology to replicate a pen out of electrons (i.e. copy it) you can bet that penmakers will have to find another way to make money.

      Alex Glen

      Nov 6, 2010 at 11:44am

      What absolute nonsense! The proposed changes in C-32 do no such thing. The format and time-shifting provisions simply make it legal to do things that people were already doing. They don't remove any compensation channels, because you weren't being compensated for them anyway - nor should you be entitled to any. If I've paid for a DVD or some other content, why are you entitled to compensation because I want to back it up, or move it onto my computer so I don't have to deal with the hassle of putting int he disc every time I want to watch it?

      If anything, the component of C-32 that is threat to your income is the digital locks provision. If digital locks prevent me from doing any of the above, I'll simply stop buying locked content. I suspect many others feel the same way.

      And a levy on ALL recording media? Why should I pay a levy for recording media that will never be used to store copyrighted content. Why should my employer pay a levy to store hundreds of TB of its own data? Why not take it to the logical extreme and put a levy on paper too, because someone might print out an infringing transcript of " Christmas with the Smoggies"?

      You've completely mischaraterized fair dealing for educational purposes. There is still a two part tests for fair dealing. Under C-32, it will STILL be an infringement to copy an entire textbook, even if it is for 'educational purposes.'

      Being a writer or any other kind of artist doesn't entitle you to make a living from it. You're entitle to fair compensation for your work, the same as everyone else. The key word here is "fair" - and I fail to see how a blanket levy on all recording media meets the definition of fair.


      Nov 6, 2010 at 1:14pm

      The other thing this article doesn't consider is private content creation.

      If I but a large hard drive and fill it with pictures and videos of my family, explain to me how paying a levy on that hard drive is fair?

      The market has shown that if content is easily and readily available for a fair price - most people will pay most of the time.


      Nov 7, 2010 at 10:17am

      First of all nobody is asking you to be an artist ... if you can't cut it in this new tech age... then get out and go work at Starbucks... and just do your art as a hobby ...Most of us resent you trying to "legislate" a living. .. in regards to music... I think it's stupid that artist will accept so little of that 99 cents paid to Itunes.... but hey .. it's your work.... and can someone tells me whats next?... If I rent your book from a library.. am I supposed to now pay you a fee?.... You delusional artists are killing yourselves.... If books, movies and cds were $ 5 bucks or less.. which is really about what they are actually worth ... people would buy a lot more... further toi MP3's who in a right frame of mind pays 99 cents for substandard audio quality vapor ... give me unrestricted proper SACD quality tracks converted from the original analog master for 20 cents and I will stop "stealing" mp3's .. mp3s are nothing but low rez photocopies of music. They are really worth nothing.


      Nov 7, 2010 at 12:27pm

      Popular movies and musicians with talent make plenty of money. The rest don't count.

      File sharing has no measureable impact on either popular artists or those with little talent who think they are talented..

      Reproduction and copying for personal use or exchange between friends has been around for the last 60 years since tape recording was introduced and is totally harmless.

      The only restriction should be on mass, for profit copying.


      Nov 8, 2010 at 6:05am

      Such a foolish, hopeless, and poorly considered idea.

      There is absolutely no way in which this so-called plan can be implemented without charging money to people who have no intention of "stealing" from Ms Golick - which means that at some point in the chain a good many people will have money taken from them in order to pay content creators. Which is exactly what the WGC is so upset about - people stealing their hard-earned wages. Well the answer is not to just go and pass a law that makes it legal for the WGC to steal from hard-working citizens.

      That has the distinct air of implying that writers and content creators are far more important than the people who would have money taken from them for this levy - and as a working writer, I know for a fact that's not true.


      Nov 9, 2010 at 4:16am

      An "artist" tax on hard drives and cell phones? Why not add lumber and garage door openers to the list?

      I propose a tax on proposing new taxes: Every time a delusional fancy-titled elitist opens his/her mouth about new taxes they have to donate $1000 to $2500 per sentence to a food bank, depending on how ridiculously stupid the proposal is.

      Smelly Cat

      Nov 10, 2010 at 11:12am

      Oh please, we tax payers already subsidize the entire film industry and Ms. Gollick wants more?