Canada’s music industry lobby group is calling on legislators to block websites that provide access to unauthorized music downloads, and to crack down on search giants like Google that link to those sites.
The move has even led to a spat over pop sensation Carly Rae Jepsen, and whether the "Call Me Maybe" singer's Google search results favour pirated sources of her music.
In testimony before Ontario’s committee on finance and economic affairs last week, Music Canada president Graham Henderson argued that the online “landscape is littered with illegal services that do not pay artists or copyright owners. Many of them appear to be legitimate to the consumer, and they’re aided by Google. Google search results obscure the simple existence of legal sources of music.”
In a blog post last month, Henderson called for “judicious and reasonable regulation of the internet” to reduce unauthorized sharing of music.
“The actions taken by courts in other jurisdictions have very reasonably required ISPs to block websites that are almost entirely dedicated to the theft of intellectual property,” he wrote. “This hurts no one but those that seek to profit from the exploitation of the creative class.”
Henderson noted Google’s “lamentable lack of support for initiatives in this area.”
Internet and e-commerce law expert Michael Geist, who first drew attention to Henderson’s comments, pointed out that digital music sales are growing in Canada, with music track sales up 2 per cent and album sales up 9 per cent in the past year. He also noted that Ontario has launched a $45-million fund to aid the music industry.
But Henderson argues that’s hardly enough.
“While digital sales have grown significantly, they are not enough to make up for lost physical sales,” he told the Queen’s Park committee. “Revenues from the digital market are on a completely different scale from those derived from CDs.”
He also linked digital piracy to growing income inequality, noting that musicians’ incomes have been falling even as search giants like Google have been earning millions from serving ads on results pages that link to pirated music.
“We now live in a world where a very few musicians have become fabulously wealthy, leaving almost everyone else with very little on the table. Was not digital technology supposed to have done exactly the opposite?”
But Henderson saved his harshest criticisms for Google, telling the committee that:
One of the biggest problems we have is that consumers cannot find legal services on Google. Type in: “Carly Rae Jepsen”; pick your song; press “search.” You would have to look to page seven of the results to find iTunes. Before you get there, you have six and a half pages littered with illegal sites which are constantly being taken down and constantly being put back.
Geist begs to differ.
I tried replicating Henderson's claims regarding Google and arrived at much different results. Searching for Carly Rae Jepsen and the song Call Me Maybe, the very first result was a music video posted by Jepsen's label which receives royalties and has a link to the iTunes version for purchase. Other top results include Jepsen's own website (with links to iTunes sales of her songs) and licensed streaming versions of the song, which all appear before ‘infringing sites.’
The Huffington Post's own Google search for "Carly Rae Jepsen" did not bring up any unauthorized sources of her music on the first three pages of search results.
The federal government passed a new copyright law last year that created a "notice and notice" system, requiring ISPs to warn customers accused of unauthorized sharing. The law set civil liability for copyright infringement at $20,000 if the piracy was for commercial purposes, and $5,000 for non-commercial purposes.
However, that law could be superseded by the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free trade deal being negotiated between Canada and 11 other Pacific Rim nations, which — according to leaked early drafts of the deal — could include a very strong chapter on copyright protection.
The deal could require the government to take steps to disconnect repeat copyright infringers from the internet, and could also provide for the sort of website blocking Music Canada is calling for.
According to some sources, the government of Canada may be backing down in its opposition to the copyright measures. But other reports suggest that is not the case, and the U.S. is isolated in its effort to push for the copyright measures.