Wednesday, April 26, 2006

MUSIC TO MY EARS - Enter the CMCC

Less than two weeks after the most influential Indies left CRIA (RIAA North), a who’s who of Canadian music stars has come out dead against the copyright gospel according to the CRIA and the CPCC (the levy collective of collectives). The stars include:
Barenaked Ladies, Avril Lavigne, Sarah McLachlan, Chantal Kreviazuk, Sum 41, Stars, Raine Maida (Our Lady Peace), Dave Bidini (Rheostatics), Billy Talent, John K. Samson (Weakerthans), Broken Social Scene, Sloan, Andrew Cash and Bob Wiseman (Co-founder Blue Rodeo).
They are opposed to:

• Suing their fans generally and statutory damages in particular. They say that:
In terms of specific copyright reforms, this principle suggests that the government should repeal provisions of the Copyright Act that allow labels to punish fans with damages of $500 to $20,000 per song. Statutory damages of this magnitude are unduly harsh where music fans share songs for non-commercial purposes. The threat of such enormous liability does not deter file sharing, but unfairly forces vulnerable people to cave in to the labels’ bullying tactics without a hearing of their case. To sue for non-commercial music sharing, record companies should have to prove their damages or lost profits, as is usually required by law.
• TPMs and Levies. They say that:
...the government should not blindly implement decade-old treaties designed to give control to major labels and take choices away from artists and consumers. Laws should protect artists and consumers, not restrictive technologies. If enacted at all, laws prohibiting the circumvention of technological measures should remain narrow. Any new legislation should not prohibit technologies or devices that may increase flexibility and facilitate choice for artists and music consumers. The law should also guarantee that artists and fans retain the ability to access music, and to use it in a fair manner.

On the issue of fair use of music, copyright law should be changed to clarify that transferring songs from one format to another is not an infringement of copyright. It is not fair to require consumers to pay twice for the ability to transfer bought songs to an iPod or other device by imposing additional levies. Instead, eliminating the rigid technicalities of the current fair dealing provisions and moving to a more flexible concept of fair use can solve this problem.
• Multinational record companies speaking in their names. They say that:
Until now, a group of multinational record labels has done most of the talking about what Canadian artists need out of copyright. But let’s be clear: major labels are looking out for their shareholders, not for Canadian artists. Recording industry lobbyists, despite claiming to represent artists, seldom speak for us. Legislative proposals, particularly those that would facilitate lawsuits against our fans or increase the labels’ control over the enjoyment of music, are made not in our names, but on behalf of the shareholders of the labels’ foreign parent companies.
The full package can be found at the website of the Canadian Music Creators Coalition (“CMCC”).

What does this mean? At the least, it will change the course of Canadian copyright revision. But it may mean even more. I would go even farther than Michael on this one.

If this spreads, it could be an artists’ Declaration of Independence. It may be that the creators’ revolution against excess copyright has begun in earnest right here in Canada.

Starting in Canada, this declaration effectively discredits virtually all of the uncritical support that some Canadian government officials - particularly those in the Department of Canadian Heritage - have provided for the music industry’s campaigns in favour of the levy scheme, statutory damages, TPMs, and blind faith WIPO Treaty implementation. From now on, if Government officials and Ministers fail to take notice of this declaration and continue to support the CRIA’s agendas, they will now have to account for actually opposing the well articulated and explicit wishes of some of our leading Canadian artists. This will hopefully not happen.

On a more immediate level, for example, I’ve been recently asked by senior officials in key jurisdictions whether there are Canadian artists who are opposed to blank media levies. It seems clear that the CMCC is indeed against a law that forces their fans to pay for “transferring songs from one format to another” and to “pay twice” to transfer bought songs to an iPod or other device. That is a direct kick in the levy scheme’s solar plexus - and maybe even a mortal blow, given all of the other assaults underway.

Internationally, this could even play out as the copyright equivalent of the Boston Tea Party, the sledgehammers at the Berlin Wall, and the beginnings of other great revolutions. The unpleasant fact that big copyright often speaks falsely in the names of actual creators and can be in conflict of interest with these same creators’ interests is now open and outed by the creators themselves who are finally using their articulate voices in a brave and brilliant manner.

I hope that the music industry does not engage in its known tactics of marginalization and even retaliation against these worthy souls who have spoken out. This has been done to individual artists in the past. These points of view can no longer be dismissed as those of an aging, hippy, and flaky former rock star alone against the world (as Janice Ian was painted in 2002). This is clearly a well organized group of very successful world class artists in the prime of their careers. And bless them - they’re Canadian, eh!

And I hope that responsible Ministers will listen directly to these artists rather than to any of their officials or lobbyists who may persist in regurgitating industry positions that have now clearly been disavowed by leaders amongst those in whose name they were wrongly put forth.

Anyone who has read my blog or other writings before will know that I have been advocating for these positions for some time, and calling upon creators to speak out. For example, Jack Granatstein has done so effectively. I hope that the time has come for Canada to take the lead in providing copyright laws that actually work for artists and consumers, and not primarily for a handful of large intermediaries, collectives, lawyers, lobbyists and others who depend upon exploiting them.

The CMCC has has just taken a giant step forward in making copyright laws serve the interest of real creators and their fans- also known as "consumers" and "the public".

HPK

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