Canadians may soon face iPod tax

By Erin Shumlich

A proposed “iPod tax” presented to Parliament Hill last March has consumers wondering about the future of copyright law in Canada. NDP MP Charlie Angus presented a Private Member’s Bill that proposed a levy on devices including iPods, MP3 players and smart phones. The fee, which could be up to $75 per device purchased, would be an extension of existing taxes on blank audio recording media like CDs and audio cassettes ­– the first of which passed in 1997. The iPod tax is only one part of a larger discussion around Canada’s copyright laws, which includes Bill C-32, the copyright reform bill, introduced by the Conservative government last June.

“Bill C-32 is currently in front of committee and being debated,” said Canada Research Chair of Internet and E-commerce Law Michael Geist. “There was no inclusion of the levy, but there has been a fair amount of pressure from some groups who would like to see a levy established. It will be brought up because you do have the two opposition parties– NDP and Bloc– say they are in favour of something.”

The Canadian Private Copying Collective is a non-profit agency that collects and distributes royalties to compensate artists. They have requested legislation to extend a tariff onto iPods and other digital music devices numerous times since 2003. The tax would go to reimbursing Canadian musicians feeling the effect of illegal downloading.

A tax on iPods and other devices has been discussed for years but the Federal Court of Appeal struck it down for being outside the statute in 2004. Proponents of the tax hope legislators will look more favourably on the proposal this time, despite little changing

The Private Copying Tariff, which came into effect on Jan. 1, continued the 29¢ private copying royalty to blank CDs. The call for reform hopes to have a similar tariff extended to include iPods.

Recent Conservative radio and television ads claim the proposed tax “is just the beginning of the coalition’s high-tax agenda.”

The Liberals, however, have claimed they are against the tariff, making consumers question the likelihood of this proposal.

“Conservatives say the Liberals were behind the tax but the Liberals say they never were,” said Geist. “What’s clear at the moment, regardless of who said what months ago, is that the Liberals have taken a fairly clear stand that they are not in favour of extending the levy to iPods right now.”

Musician Taylor McKee from the Calgary band Shagbots said a tax is not the right way to approach protecting the rights of creators.

“You can’t tax people and tell them it’s illegal at the same time,” he said. “It would create the illusion that due compensation has been given for artists and almost tell people that it is okay to download. How do you find an equitable way to distribute it? It would only be beneficial to artists that are already big.”

According to McKee, unless you are Justin Bieber, bands can’t make money only selling CDs anymore. He added downloading is not such a bad thing for small bands who just want people to hear their music.

Regardless if the iPod tax is passed or not, Geist said Bill C-32 is something to watch very closely.

Bill C-32 legalizes many activities Canadians currently engage in, such as recording TV programs to watch later or sharing music on iPods and CDs but contains legislation that will make it illegal to do so if the manufacturer puts a “lock” on the material.

The bill is the government’s third attempt in the last decade to redefine copyright violation in the country. Both a Liberal attempt in 2005 (C-30) and a Conservative in 2008 (C-31) died before being implemented.

“It’s got issues that would actually create significant limitations to what people can legally do,” Geist said. “I think it raises some real concerns in that regard. The bill is something definitely worth paying attention to in a Canadian perspective. There’s real important stuff that is in the bill, some of which is really problematic to consumers and students.”

The bill came under fire from teacher and student groups for limiting access to teaching materials.

Canadian politicians have pushed the need for copyright reform for years as ripping music without repercussion has become commonplace for many in the country. A 2009 report from anti-piracy group BayTSP ranked Canada tenth in the world for copyright infringement. Although still in its infant stage, Bill C-32 will introduce new protection for creators with regards to digital locks, which will restrict access to their work.

Copying works for educational, personal, parody and non-commercial use will be explicitly legal, so emerging artists can still share their work for free. The NDP MP Angus said in a CBC press release that his party “will ensure that artists are getting paid for their work and that consumers aren’t criminalized for moving their legally obtained music from one format to another.”

Bill C-32 will be discussed in depth when the House of Commons reconvenes Jan. 31.

Correction: The following information was updated Jan. 28, 2011.

“The Private Copying Tariff, which came into effect on Jan. 1, added a 29¢ private copying royalty to blank CDs” has been changed to “The Private Copying Tariff, which came into effect on Jan. 1, continued the 29¢ private copying royalty to blank CDs.” A 29¢ levy has been in effect since 2008.

Also, Carol Lindsay is an employee of the CPCC, not the director. Her quote has been removed from the story.

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