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Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Comfortably numb
This rant from sometime ago is apparently making the rounds. Knickers everywhere twisting and such. Friends checking in to see if I've lost my marbles.

So let's clarify a few points:

First, there is little that condones illegal downloading of copyrighted material. As I've argued before though, the legality , for pro-downloaders at least, should be besides the point.

Despite the soon-to-be-tightened legal loopholes in Canada, both sides of the debate can generally agree that stealing material without the permission of the copyright holder is illegal. The real separation is this - pro-downloaders believe themselves to be freedom fighters for art, striking out against the record labels and corporations who control such things; record labels believe themselves to be fighting for control of the material they spend millions to produce and promote.

Of course, it's far more complicated than that. But that's the barebones basic of this squabble.

Anyway. In Canada, it's a little more complicated. And so, right now the recording industry is staging a two-headed campaign - arguing from one mouth that the government should continue to contribute tax dollars to support it; the other mouth asking the government to help the recording industry crackdown on downloaders (or freeloaders as my paper is fond of calling them).

The message to taxpayers: We need your money.
The message to downloaders: Stop stealing. We need your money.
The message to taxpaying downloaders: We need your money and while you're at it, stop downloading so you can gives us more money.

Oh, but lots of Canadian companies receive tax breaks and government funding and then charge us for their product, you say.

Sure. Fine. Can't dispute that. And if the consumer is satisfied with that set up, more power to them and the businesses they frequent.

But music consumers don't seem all that satisfied of late. In fact, they seem downright disgruntled. That's why they're going online and downloading to their cold, careless hearts' content completely free of guilt.

So here's several question that might be asked by all those music publications trotting out Save Factor editorials:

Nobody wants to see Jann Arden forced to work at McDonald's, but why should some night manager at McDonald's have to pay twice for his Jann Arden CD? What would the ramifications be of discounting in Canada those CDs from artists who have received government funding? What if we discounted all CanCon altogether?

Wouldn't downloaders be justified in saying to the recording industry - "We'll stop downloading your songs just as soon as you stop downloading our tax dollars?"

Why does the recording industry in this country feel such a sense of entitlement? Why do they feel they are owed both funding and changes to the federal copyright laws?

Has federal funding really produced a healthy national recording industry? Who has received funding? Who hasn't? Why? What exactly is this money used for? How often are loans not repaid? Why is it easier for some parties to receive loans and grants? And what exactly would happen if this funding was cut or cut-off entirely? Is it such that the recording industry has become dependent on federal funding? Is that really what the government and voters want?

And who is in control here? The industry? The government? Or the consumer?

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Anyway. This all rather boring, no? That's probably why no one ever makes a fuss about much of the above or even asks the odd question. Set against health care funding or, say, Adscam, government money for the recording industry is rather insignificant. And most music writers would rather busy themselves with the minutiae of guitar solos and drum fills. Fair enough. So would we all.

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An astute reader and industry expert notes that the Heritage Committee on Copyright may have offered their recommendations long before the Minister for that department rendered her verdict at the Junos. He may be right in this regard - I'm still trying to sort the whens and hows of that one out (this report for instance, backs up my original timing). But he knows far more of these dealings than I. Either way, there was no intention to suggest a conspiracy. Pandering to the record industry, maybe. But not quite Watergate.

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P.S. I ask none of the above questions rhetorically.

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P.P.S. Angry record industry types are invited to correct me on any and all points.

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P.P.P.S. Until then, here is a Chart story with the record industry explanation of the Tragically Hip situation.

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P.P.P.P.S. Another non-rhetorical question - is the real problem that kids these days, unable to find new music on the radio and tv, are turning to Kazaa and the like? Is that why they feel downloading should be free?

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P.P.P.P.P.S. Realize that there are two major issues mixing here - the motivating forces/consequences of government funding for the arts and the motivating forces/consequences of downloading.

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P.P.P.P.P.P.S. Colby Cosh with a long ago post on downloading.

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P.P.P.P.P.P.P.S. Some numbers from Canadian Music Network magazine. Total music sales in Canada, according to Soundscan, are up 2.5% this year. Albums are up 3.3%. Singles are down 44.6%. The week ending May 9 saw a 12.5% increase over the same week last year.

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