Chad Kroeger thinks he owns your computer

Canadian music icons Anne Murray, Chad Kroeger, Metric, Hedley, Hawksley Workman and others recently lobbied Heritage Minister James Moore and Industry Minister Tony Clement with hopes of changing Bill C-32. Their letter called for a levy on MP3 players similar to that already on blank CDs. Such levies serve as a rough form of compensation collected and doled out by the Canadian Private Copying Collective. Do these musicians have a right to demand that people be taxed when buying MP3 players under the assumption that some people may use their devices to listen to music that they haven’t paid for? Do they even have a right to demand that people compensate them for copying music at all? In both cases, the answer is no.

Pre-emptive compensation is a messy concept to begin with and applying it to an entire nation of consumers is absurd. As Moore has pointed out, what these musicians are calling for would slap a broad, ill-defined tax on all consumers.

“They are making a lot of noise about this,” he said to the Globe and Mail on Nov. 25. “But frankly they’re not making sense.”

Taxing every person who buys an MP3 player because they may use it in a particular way is just wrong. It would be like taxing all alcohol and automobile sales to give compensation to victims of drunk driving. With specific exceptions, compensation should come from those who have caused the particular harm being compensated, not everyone who could potentially inflict a harm.

Furthermore, these musicians have no right to what they are asking for. They can’t demand compensation because they haven’t been unjustly harmed. Of course they would surely make more money if no one copied their music over the Internet. I would make more money if I was getting paid to write this article, but in neither case does the fact that one is not making as much money as possible mean that one is unjustly harmed.

File sharing technology increases the number of files available. It takes something from one person and copies it to another. No one loses any piece of property, unless you believe a definition of intellectual property rights that is highly contentious and, in my opinion, false.

If Chad Kroeger demands that consumers be taxed in order to compensate him for how some Canadians use their MP3 players, laptops and blank CDs to listen to music that he wrote, then he is implying that Canadians have stolen from him because he produced the original which provided a template for subsequent copies. But copying something doesn’t deprive anyone of anything they previously had, which is what most people think of when they think of theft.

If you have a scarf to keep you warm and I don’t so I use my own needles and yarn to make a copy of your scarf, I haven’t stolen your scarf. I have simply made a new one just like yours, so that we can both be warm. The only difference between copying scarves and music files is that the musician would like to sell you those files. But failing to purchase something because I can make a copy for myself doesn’t mean that I have stolen it from any potential merchant and I certaintly don’t owe any merchant compensation because I’ve failed to buy from him.

“We know that you do not want to see a Canada that is devoid of musicians and songwriters,” the letter submitted to Moore and Clement stated, “but without fair and balanced treatment, that may be the tragic consequence.”

Again, not true. Canada may become devoid of big time bands like Nickleback if rock stars aren’t paid every time someone listens to their single, but music won’t cease to be made. In fact, the quality of Canadian music could greatly improve if the only people making music are making it because they have an idea to express or because they love what they do regardless of the fame and fortune. Either way, our government should defend Canadian property rights by dismissing this thinly veiled and philosophically backwards cash grab.

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