Sunday, April 24, 2011

Copyright and Taxes

With a Canadian Federal election coming up in just over a week, party leaders are all vying for votes, saying what they think the majority of constituents want to hear in order to get them.

There has been a great deal of activity recently in Canadian Parliament by the Harper Conservatives, attempting to bring Canada’s copyright laws into parity with those of the U.S. There are rumours from both the Conservatives and Liberals, led by Michael Ignatieff, that a tax or surcharge will be added to such devices as iPods, iPhones, MP-3 Players etc. There is already a tax on recordable media such as blank CDs, DVDs, cassette tapes and so on.

What I’d like to address today is the inherent unfairness and inequality of such a tax.

While I can understand the notion of compensation for the creators of written, recorded, and televised works, I cannot buy the idea that copyright laws and taxes protect the “artists.” To understand what I mean by this, let’s look a bit deeper into the matter.

I, as a drummer, am considered to be one of these artists; a title I wear willingly and with a certain measure of pride. I have performed onstage and on recordings with a vast array of other artists, some of whom are household names, and intend to do so again for a number of years. But if copyright laws and taxes are to ensure the artists receive compensation, I am here to assure you that they do not!

The truth of the matter is that when I perform onstage, I get paid for the performance. Period! Putting this in perspective, I began learning my craft at about 10 years of age. I learned consistently for many years by observation, asking questions, and eventually paying for lessons. I’ve put a lot of time into honing my craft, practising for many hours every day for years, all unpaid. On days when I perform, I make sacrifices so I will have adequate time and energy to get to and play at the gig. I arrive at least an hour before start time and stay a half hour after we finish in order to set up and pack away my drums. Our gigs last for an average of four hours and I arrive home at sunrise and as a result the following day is generally lost to me as well. For all this, I receive a sum of money that many people earn in a couple of hours.

In the recording studio it is a bit different but often not much better financially. Generally in the studio, the days are long, (often ten to twelve hours) and the sessions frequently take three to five days. Again, for this, I am paid generally fifty percent more than I receive for a live performance. Note: Once I am done with both the onstage performances and the recordings, there is no further compensation for me or many other band members. Why is this? Simply because copyright laws cover “intellectual properties,” meaning the person who came up with the idea (lyrics, music, concept etc.) is the person to whom the money is sent, and then only if they belong to an organization that ensures they receive said money.

For example, in 1994 I was involved in a recording where I added a line to a song. According to copyright laws, I am entitled to financial compensation every time a copy of that album is sold, but because I am not a member of SOCAN (Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada) there is no way of them even knowing of my contribution. Considering that I am not likely to ever become known as a songwriter, and considering that my lyrical contribution to that one song was just that; one time; there is little sense in me belonging to SOCAN or any other such organization.

So, now that I`ve established how the copyright laws DO NOT protect artists, let`s look at tariffs, taxes, and surcharges on recording and storage media.

While conceptually, these things can be, (and frequently are) used to copy already existing works, as in the case of borrowing a CD or DVD and making a copy of it, (thereby circumnavigating a sale) they can also be used to store one`s OWN works.

For example, if Canadian author Margaret Atwood writes a novel and wishes to give a copy to her publisher, it would make sense for her to copy the text to a CD and deliver it that way, rather than to print it off onto “hard copy;” real paper. A songwriter who is looking to be published or wants to submit his/her works to famous performers in the hope that said works will be recorded, will submit said works on a CD. If I shoot a video on my camcorder and want to share it with my friends or family, I can burn it to DVD copies and send them to members of my family and friends.

In all these cases, no copyright laws were broken and yet we are being charged extra “hidden” taxes (something the Canadian GST was supposed to eliminate) in the form of surcharges for the CDs and DVDs we buy for these purposes. This money then goes in small part to the writers, of songs, books and screenplays, but in large part to the distributors of recorded, printed, and filmed works, and in NO WAY back to me for the home video I shared.

Let me make this a bit more clear. If I write a song, and have my band record it, and SONY CANADA distributes it to all the “record stores” in Canada, I will receive a small percentage of the sales, my band will receive nothing, (unless I decide to share with them) and SONY will receive the largest percentage of the monies received through sales. Therefore, when you make a copy of that CD for your cousin, I will lose pennies, my band will lose nothing, but SONY will lose dollars! How is this fair to or in any way protecting the artists?

Additionally, many products that are released onto the market today have “anti-copy” software embedded that makes them work only in the first device into which they are inserted. In other words, if you buy a CD, and play it in your car on the way home, then take it into the house and try to play it in your Home Theatre system, it will not play. It turns out there is a detection device implanted that will recognize only your car stereo. A friend of mine took a CD into work and tried to play it in his work computer only to have that computer freeze and fail to work again until he reformatted the hard drive. Is that really fair? He BOUGHT the CD, was not attempting to copy it, and had he not been computer savvy, would have lost a lot of work-related information when the computer crashed.

I do not really care how you choose to vote on May 2, but I ask you to be aware of the insidious, underhanded legislations being negotiated today in Canada and how those legislations will affect you and your fellow Canadians. Ask questions of your candidates. Hold them accountable for the actions of Parliament. After all, you and so many other Canadians are paying their salaries. Do not let Canada become a cheap knockoff of the insane activities we see to the south.

~Still Wandering...

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