TORONTO (Billboard) - The Canadian music biz is breathing a sigh of relief after a government pledge to introduce long-awaited copyright legislation aimed at solving the country’s music piracy problem.
The legislation might be introduced as soon as within the next few weeks. Caroline Grondin, spokesperson for the Industry Canada ministry, said the government is aware of the need to move quickly.
“Canada’s Copyright Act needs to be reformed to respond to the challenges of the digital age,” she said. “New protections proposed for the benefit of rights holders will seek to address online infringement as well as create a legal framework that encourages the rollout, by rights holders, of new business models.”
Renewed interest in Canada’s Copyright Act followed the announcement of the legislation in October’s Conservative Party “throne speech,” essentially a public list of the government’s upcoming priorities. Industry sources told Billboard that the government has been under pressure from foreign countries to update the legislation, which could be introduced before Parliament begins its holiday break in December.
Graham Henderson, president of labels body the Canadian Recording Industry Assn. (CRIA), said the legislation will demonstrate the country’s commitment to protecting its songwriters and musicians.
“Is it going to replace our lost revenue every year? Of course not,” Henderson said. “But it is a start. Right now, our big problem is that digital sales aren’t replacing lost physical sales. A new Copyright Act would help foster new digital business models that haven’t appeared in Canada because of piracy.”
Despite 7.9 million broadband lines for a population of 33.4 million, according to the IFPI, Canada’s legal digital business has struggled to take off. According to Nielsen Canadian SoundScan, digital sales account for just 5 percent of overall sales for the year to date. Meanwhile, a 2006 study conducted for the CRIA by pollster Pollara estimated that 1.3 billion music tracks are downloaded illegally in Canada each year.
The music industry has long blamed the existing Copyright Act for the proliferation of file sharing and the long-term decline in CD sales, with shipments dropping a further 19 percent year on year in 2007 through August (the most recent figures available), according to the CRIA.
But reform has been a long time coming. Canada signed two World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) treaties dealing with copyright protection in the digital age in 1997 but never ratified them or adopted their principles into law. In June 2005, the then-Liberal government proposed new copyright legislation, but the bill died when the government fell the following January.
The effect of the existing 1921 legislation, underscored by a series of court cases, is that downloading a song or making files available for sharing does not constitute copyright infringement.
The proposed new legislation has been broadly welcomed by the Canadian industry, but musician lobby group the Canadian Music Creators Coalition, whose members include Sarah McLachlan and Avril Lavigne, warned the CRIA not to use the new law to launch RIAA-style lawsuits.
“When the CRIA said ‘copyright reform,’ what they really mean is ‘give a free hand to sue fans who download,’” CMCC spokesman and Barenaked Ladies frontman Steven Page said in a statement. “We hope the government has a better solution in mind.”
But Henderson claimed his organization has no such plans.
“Canadians are law-abiding, and when this is made clear, I’m confident they will follow the law,” he said.
Still, Mark Hayes, a copyright lawyer at Blake, Cassels & Graydon in Toronto, warned that the proposed changes may not be the panacea the music industry is counting on.
“We’re way behind on this and just starting to deal with things we should have resolved years ago,” Hayes said. “By focusing on WIPO, we’re overshadowing issues about online rights and business models that are changing by the hour.”