Should Canada impose an iPod levy? Copyright experts debate issue

Canadians are copying their private music collection on to their iPods and should pay a levy to compensate musicians properly for that act, according to a director at the Canadian Private Copying Collective (CPCC).

See the other videos and articles in this series:

  • Part 2: Who should tell Canadians about the levy?
  • Part 3: iPod tax would include exemptions for disabled, business groups

    “We know through surveys there is an enormous amount of private copying,” says David Basskin, during a round table discussion hosted by “You survey, you determine the value, and you impose the levy.”

    The CPCC has been collecting levies on recordable media sold in Canada since 2000. A 29 cent fee on each blank CD or minidisc, and a 24 cent fee on each cassette tape goes into the coffers of the collective. It is their responsibility to distribute that to compensate those who have worked on the music being copied.

    “Since 2000, we’ve taken close to $230 million distributed something like $180 million,” Basskin says. “The levy has made an enormous difference in the lives and careers of the people who make music in this country.”

    With the ongoing government copyright consultations, some musicians’ groups (such as the American Federation of Musicians in Canada) have also raised the idea of extending the levy. In an age where CDs are falling out of popular use and being replaced by iPods and other mp3 players, it makes sense to update the law, they argue.

    But others disagree.

    Critics say the levy makes everyone pay the price whether they are copying music to the media or not. Questions have also been raised about how fairly collected funds are distributed, and whether Canadians are even sufficiently aware that such a levy exists and making a private copy is legal.

    “I don’t think there should be a levy,” says David Allsebrook, an intellectual property lawyer with Toronto-based Ludlow Law. “At present time, the people who own the copyrights are sort of sucking and blowing at the same time. They’re cashing the royalty checks, whether or not someone makes a copy of their music and at the same time, putting copy protection in place.”

    But no CDs on sale in Canada are currently protected by digital locks or technological protection measures (TPMs), Basskin retorts. Though they were experimented with for a brief time.

    “It was a total market failure and the entire music industry, and the record companies in any event, have stepped back from those,” he says.

    Still, Allsebrook added that if a levy were to be extended to other electronic storage devices such as iPods, the Copyright Act should also prohibit digital locks on music.

    While the rights of music producers should be respected, the levy is unfair to some media users, argues Justin Williams, a student at the University of Waterloo and secretary of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations.

    Williams says he uses his iPod to listen to lectures a course he takes over the Internet. He doesn’t store any music on his device.

    “I don’t actually have music on my iPod,” he says. “But when we talk about using these levies … we’re assuming someone is going to put music on it when they might not be.”

    The CPCC surveys 1,000 people a month to determine how to set its levies, Basskin says. Those results show that 70 to 80 per cent of iPod users do put their music collection onto the device.

    “This is a question we have wrestled with from the beginning,” he acknowledges. “You live by the survey, you die by the survey.”

    The collective proposes tariffs to the Copyright Board, Basskin says. The board takes non-musical use of CDs into account when determining the fee. It’s expected that the fee on CDs and cassettes will be diminished as they become less popular for storing music.

    The government consultations on copyright have been ongoing since July 20. The process has included town halls, round table discussions, a call for written submissions, and a Web site inviting comments in a forum. In putting together previous copyright bills, the Conservative government had been criticized for a lack of public consultation.

    The ongoing consultations are a good step forward, but not without problems, according to’s panel guests.

    “It’s gone from being a backroom process to one that the public can be involved in,” Allsebrook says. But “there’s a lot that could be done to improve how copyright works in this country instead of just bickering over who gets a few pennies, this way and that.”

    It’s about time the consultation take place, Basskin says. But the process has proven to be disorganized.

    “It has been something of a dog’s breakfast,” he says. “What’s needed is what’s happened before – the publication of a white paper, the call for submissions, and then organized hearings.”

    The government will take public comments on copyright until Sept. 13.

    Check back at tomorrow to see the panel debate how the CPCC distributes money to copyright holders, and whether Canadians are well enough informed about the levy.  

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    Brian Jackson
    Brian Jackson
    Editorial director of IT World Canada. Covering technology as it applies to business users. Multiple COPA award winner and now judge. Paddles a canoe as much as possible.

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