18 September 2007

Of Cake and Eating It

The Canadian Recording Industry Association this week quietly filed documents in the Federal Court of Appeal that will likely shock many in the industry. CRIA, which spent more than 15 years lobbying for the creation of the private copying levy, is now fighting to eliminate the application of the levy on the Apple iPod since it believes that the Copyright Board of Canada's recent decision to allow a proposed tariff on iPods to proceed "broadens the scope of the private copying exception to avoid making illegal file sharers liable for infringement."

Given that CRIA's members collect millions from the private copying levy, the decision to oppose its expansion may come as a surprise. Yet the move reflects a reality that CRIA has previously been loath to acknowledge - the Copyright Board has developed jurisprudence that provides a strong argument that downloading music on peer-to-peer networks is lawful in Canada.

This is interesting, because it tacitly recognises that imposing a levy effectively gives permission for any kind of private copying - otherwise it would be a case of having your cake and eating it - which is why the CRIA is desperately backtracking.

But I'd turn this around, and say that this equation offers a way to solve all the messy legal squabbles over private copying. Provided the levy on recording media were small enough, it could be spread over everything - tapes, CD-Rs, hard discs, flash - and be a relatively painless way for users to gain the right, enshrined in law, to share and copy anything for private use.

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