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Hook, line and singer

The Canadian Coalition of Media Creators has new ideas about the old issue of copyright.


BY Terence Dick
Illustration by Gordon Wiebe

Steven Page says it’s because they’re musicians that it took them so long to get organized. The Barenaked Ladies’ singer, and spokesperson for the recently formed Canadian Music Creators Coalition (CMCC), says the group should have been around in 2005 when the Liberals attempted to amend the Copyright Act with Bill C-60. Criticized for sacrificing the rights of users to those of copyright holders, the bill died when the government fell that fall. Riding on the possibility that the incoming Conservative government would have fewer ties to lobby groups like the Canadian Recording Industry Association, music’s working class took the opportunity to present their point of view.

Last May, the CMCC sent an open letter demanding that creators of Canada’s music be involved in debates about file sharing legislation, curbing free use of musical products (through digital locks on CDs, for example) and the management of copyrights for the increasingly dematerialized commodity that is music. According to Page, “The CD may very well be on its last legs,” and both musicians and the music industry must figure out how to control their product (that is, how to make money) in a business that has been radically changed by developments in technology.

But it’s not as if this hasn’t happened before. The history of mass-produced music is full of such crises. Sheet music, radio and most recently cassette tapes were all vilified by the industry as plagues that threatened the existence of music itself. With this last—now essentially obsolete—piece of technology, an extensive campaign was waged: Home taping is killing music!

Clearly it didn’t and, in fact, the democratizing aspect of cassettes— they allow fans to make compilations, independent musicians to record their own music cheaply via multi-track home studios, and small labels to mass-produce music on a reduced scale without relying on the demands of large vinyl pressing plants (or CD manufacturers) to ship product in large numbers— resulted in a vibrant music culture.

So, by the way, did the Barenaked Ladies, who, with their first release, became probably the only band in Canada to have earned gold sales with a demo cassette. Now Page and members of bands that cross the musical spectrum—from Broken Social Scene to Chilliwack—have united to ensure the future health of our current globally celebrated music culture by looking out for the fans. “The fact that technology has made all this sharing of music that much easier shouldn’t mean we punish the fans who keep the music industry going,” says Page. Rather than impede this progress, music professionals need to follow its lead. “I want music I can take with me wherever I want, on whatever device I choose to listen to it on. Whoever provides that is going to continue to have audiences,” Page continues. “For better or worse, I think it has to be market driven.”

Clearly the market wants to do what it will with music. Fans want to post it on their music blogs, lipsynch to it on YouTube and share it with their friends. Any law that limits that freedom is not cool for the band hoping to sell future CDs, MP3s and concert tickets to those same fans. For Page, what this means is that artists have to be prepared to give up a certain amount of control over their work. His solution is to introduce user fees at the level of the internet service provider. Like the fees radio stations pay for the music they play, these would be distributed among the copyright holders whose music is monitored in action on the web. “The only problem,” according to Page, “is that the biggest fish in the pond will get less money than they would have and the smaller fish are actually going to see some cash.”

Any good biologist knows that variety makes for a better living environment. This biodiversity is already flourishing through the work of such free-range bottom feeders as the Blocks Recording Club and online indie rock music store Zunior.com. If it means the death knell for major record labels, so be it. “Music is not going to die,” says Page. “The music industry may die, but it’ll only be its own suicide that does it.”

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