A private member’s bill brought before Parliament has reignited the debate over what is legal when it comes to copying music between devices and downloading it from the Internet.

NDP MP introduces bill calling for iPod tax

An opposition member of Parliament has asked the House to extend a private levy that Canadians already pay on CDs and blank cassette tapes to iPods and other mp3 players in a private member’s bill introduced yesterday.

Charlie Angus, the NDP’s digital issues critic, described the levy as a way to ensure Canadians have the legal right to copy a CD to an iPod.

The levy, he said, would compensate artists for songs freely downloaded from the Internet, and suggested that not having it left Canadians vulnerable to being sued by the record industry.

“In a world of endless downloading, we need to provide a monetizing stream for artists,” Angus told Parliament.  The levy “is compensating artists for some of the enormous amount of copying that is taking place.”

The levy collected would go to the Canadian Private Copying Collective (CPCC), which already collects 29 cents for every blank CD, and 24 cents for every blank cassette purchased by Canadians. The Copyright Board of Canada did extend this levy to include mp3 players in 2004, but that decision was later overturned by the Federal Court of Appeal.

Now Angus and the CPCC say that ruling was the result of the law’s out-of-date wording.

Watch a debate over an iPod tax featuring David Basskin and David Allsebrook:

 “This is an exact response to that ruling,” Angus says in an interview with ITBusiness.ca. “I think most Canadians will find it reasonable.”

The bill rekindles the debate over what Canadians should reasonably expect to do legally with the songs they buy.

While the CPCC says artists must be compensated for the private copying done by individuals, critics of the levy say that legal right already exists.

Just read section 80 of the Copyright Act, says David Allsebrook, an intellectual property lawyer at Ludlow Law.

“You can make a copy of a sound recording whether you’ve purchased it once or not,” he says. “You don’t need to pay, you don’t need to do anything.”

But according to David Basskin, a director at CPCC, the fairly routine act of copying a CD onto an iPod is technically illegal at present, let alone downloading a song from the Internet.

“Value is being consumed without payment,” he says. “Millions of Canadians make billions of private copies from songs.”

For Angus, the matter is a legal grey area. But he says the levy would ensure that Canadians did have the legal right to make private copies. It could also avoid scenarios like those seen recently in the U.S., where individual consumers have successfully been sued for millions by record companies claiming copyright infringement.

Angus specifically cited the case of Jammie Thomas-Rasset, who was ordered by a jury to pay $1.92 million for infringing the copyrights of 24 songs last June.

There have also been questions raised as to whether the CPCC is the right channel to distribute money among artists. Critics say the collective distributes money too slowly and there is no independent structure in place to ensure artists are receiving money fairly.

“They have these huge pools of money and they don’t give them out,” Allsebrook says. “There’s no guarantee that if you have this levy, it will make it through to the artist.”

The CPCC says it has distributed $180 million to more than 100,000 artists since its inception 10 years ago. That’s about $180 per artist per year.  But some receive more than others, Basskin says.

“Obviously there’s a distribution based on usage, and on airplay,” he explains.

There is a lag in the time the CPCC can dole out the appropriate fees because it must wait until it knows the right amount based on radio air time and the number of times the song was purchased.

Angus’ private member’s bill doesn’t specify a price range for the iPod levy, but Basskin says it should be based on a device’s storage capacity, and have a set maximum fee.

Bill C-499 may not get far. Private members bills have a poor track record of becoming law. Conservative MP and Minister of Canadian Heritage James Moore declared he was against the levy on Twitter, saying it would be a tax hike.

The Liberals declined to take a stance on the bill, according to Liberal Party industry critic Marc Garneau. It is interested in revisting the Copyright Act to address issues such as fair dealing and rights of creators.

Liberal MPs did support a committee motion recommending the House of Commons extend the levy to include devices with internal memory. Bloc Quebecois MPs also supported the motion.

The bill will receive first reading before the House of Commons.

Angus also raised a second private member’s bill that would create more copyright exceptions for academic purposes.

Follow Brian Jackson on Twitter.

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