Not As We Do

An article in today’s Toronto Star highlights a new copyright infringement case that’s about to go to court. The damages being sought are gigantic, with the defendants “effectively already admitted owing at least $50 million [CAD] and the full claim could exceed $60 billion.”

These infringers are not a cabal of p2p radicals or a gaggle of share-happy college students, but rather a series of record companies who utilize anti-p2p lawsuits as part of their purported good fight in support of recording artists victimized by intellectual property theft: “Warner Music Canada, Sony BMG Music Canada, EMI Music Canada, and Universal Music Canada, the four primary members of the Canadian Recording Industry Association.”

The claims arise from a longstanding practice of the recording industry in Canada, described in the lawsuit as “exploit now, pay later if at all.” It involves the use of works that are often included in compilation CDs (ie. the top dance tracks of 2009) or live recordings. The record labels create, press, distribute and sell the CDs, but do not obtain the necessary copyright licences.

Instead, the names of the songs on the CDs are placed on a “pending list,” which signifies that approval and payment is pending. The pending list dates back to the late 1980s, when Canada changed its copyright law by replacing a compulsory licence with the need for specific authorization for each use. It is perhaps better characterized as a copyright infringement admission list, however, since for each use of the work, the record label openly admits that it has not obtained copyright permission and not paid any royalty or fee.

Over the years, the size of the pending list has grown dramatically, now containing more than 300,000 songs.

Multiply that 300,000 by the CAD $20,000 per infringement price tag and you get $60 billion in potential damages (about $57 billion in USD).

On the face of it, this story can be appreciated for its comic irony, but on a more substantial note, this is clear evidence that the corporate recording industry’s defence of intellectual property is not an effort to ensure economic stability for artists, but rather an attempt to protect their own profits. That record companies are not really out to protect the economic interests of individual artists artists is not a new argument, even within the limited context of this site, but rarely is it laid out as plainly as we see in this case. Here the record companies use a product model (the compilation) and liscence model (the pending list) that half-heartedly disguise the fact that they aren’t playing by the same rules they want to enforce on consumers.

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One Comment on “Not As We Do”

  1. pizzapelsa Says:

    I also think it’s really interesting in this case that the record company interests are acting retroactively. Faced with the prospect of little profit in the future, they are looking back to find past revenues that have not yet been collected. This is more evidence that the record industry is nostalgic for a lost “golden age” in which people still bought records, and those sales made record execs rich. I agree with you that it is almost comic (black humor, to be sure) that these industry interests are protecting a system which today largely seems obsolete, maybe already dead. It’s as if they’re trying to resurrect a zombie body, Frankenstein style.


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