Canadian Songwriters Propose All-You-Can-Download Net Tax


The Songwriters Association of Canada is proposing a fee as high as $10 be added to monthly internet bills that would pay for licenses allowing for unlimited music downloading from file sharing sites.

If you can’t beat ’em, charge ’em. That seems to be the mindset of the Songwriters Association of Canada, which has apparently decided that the best way to stop illegal file sharing is to make it legal and try to squeeze some bucks out of it. The group has approached “several” Canadian ISPs with a proposal to charge a flat fee for private licenses allowing for unlimited music downloading and hopes to have trials running by the end of the year. As much as $840 million could be generated annually if every internet subscriber in the country pays for the license.

The idea is similar to a 2007 attempt to amend the Canadian Copyright Act that would have forced ISPs to pay a file sharing tax, but where that effort failed, SAC President Eddie Schwartz believes this one will work because it bypasses the government in favor of dealing directly with ISPs.

“All of the rights that we need are actually already in Canada’s copyright laws,” said Schwartz. “We thought, ‘All we need to do is come up with a private business model that monetizes file-sharing.’ That’s what we set out to do, modify the [original] proposal so that there was a private way to achieve the same results without needing to get legislation.”

The money would go to groups like the Society of Composers, Artist and Music Publishers of Canada, but David Fewer, the director of the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic at the University of Ottawa, said that although the plan is technically feasible, it could “upend” the Canadian music industry because songwriters represented by SOCAN would earn money from the fees but other components of the industry, like record labels, would not.

“We are getting into the complicated way that music works,” he added.

Schwartz claimed that 97 percent of online music downloads are done illegally, based on a 2010 report by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, but that 80 percent of all file sharers would pay a monthly fee if it meant they could indulge their habit legally and without fear of being sued. He also said that widespread adoption of the private licenses would give the Songwriter’s Association a stronger legal basis for filing U.S.-style lawsuits against illegal file sharers.

“The surest and swiftest way to dramatically reduce infringement is to give consumers an authorized way to music-file share,” he wrote in the proposal. “Once such an authorized system is in place, consumers who refuse to pay a reasonable license fee will clearly be choosing to infringe and can be dealt with accordingly.”

What’s not clear, however, is why any ISP would go along with it. They’re not at any real risk of legal or civil penalties for the misbehavior of their customers and tacking yet more fees onto internet bills, regardless of the reason, is hardly going to be a public relations coup. There are also questions about what music the licenses would permit; would it be limited to certain outlets or artists? And how will the movie and television industries, which are also being punished by illegal downloading, react if the music industry actually manages to pull this off?

I’m not entirely opposed to the idea; ten bucks a month for all I can eat sounds pretty fair to me. But will it actually happen, at least in any kind of meaningful, consumer-friendly fashion? Let’s just say that I’m not going to hold my breath.

Source: Vancouver Sun

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