Amend copyright bill, music industries urge MPs

Representatives for musicians, record labels and a radio company asked MPs to amend the government's copyright reform bill Tuesday during testimony before a parliamentary committee.

Parliamentary committee hearing arguments over Bill C-11

The president of a radio company and representatives for Canadian musicians and record labels all asked MPs Tuesday to amend the copyright reform bill when they appeared before a House of Commons committee Tuesday. (Christian Palma/Associated Press)

Witnesses representing musicians, record labels and a small radio company asked MPs to amend the government's copyright reform bill when they appeared on Tuesday before a committee studying C-11.

The Canadian Federation of Musicians, Re:Sound Music Licencing Company and an Ontario radio company called Pineridge Broadcasting told the special legislative committee they support the government's efforts to modernize Canada's copyright law, but that the bill still needs some work.

Bill Skolnik, CEO of the Canadian Federation of Musicians, said its members are self-employed business owners who often earn less than $20,000 a year and that earning income depends on Canada having robust copyright laws and royalty rules.

"Just because digital technology has made it easy for works to be reproduced it doesn't mean that it should be free," he said. "Technological advances cannot be a rationale for diminishing or depriving creators and performers of their rights to be rewarded for reproducing and using their work. Music has value. Unfortunately, in too many places this bill removes the value."


Skolnik said the CFM takes issue with a number of provisions in C-11, including a proposal to reduce the penalties for those who break copyright laws for non-commercial purposes.

He said there haven't been cases where Canadians have had to pay exorbitant fines for infringing on copyright and there is no need to drop the fines, adding that it shouldn't matter whether the law was broken for commercial purposes or not.

"Such a distinction conveys the wrong message," he said.

Re:Sound, a non-profit organization that collects and distributes royalties for performers and record labels, has been lobbying the government to hear its case and recently sent letters to MPs asking them to support their proposed amendments. 

The association argues that radio stations currently get a subsidy from the government because the royalty scheme, which is tied to advertising revenue, currently mandates that only $100 has to be paid to Re:Sound on the first $1.25 million in revenue.

The group says this exemption amounts to an estimated $8 million in lost revenue for musicians and record labels annually and that radio stations should be forced to pay more.

Ian MacKay, president of Re:Sound, said a handful of large, profitable radio companies are benefiting from the rules and that artists and record labels aren't getting fairly compensated.

'Serious market distortion'

"This is a serious market distortion that benefits a very profitable industry at the expense of those who create the content that drive that industry," he said.

A radio station president, Don Conway, said lifting the $100 exemption would "significantly impact" his business and that small companies like his are already under tremendous financial pressure.

"If I can't hire someone else, I can't grow my revenues. If I can't grow my revenues I can't pay the artist any more," he said when asked about the royalty rate.

Conway said his company, Pineridge Broadcasting, a private company operating in eastern Ontario, is being held back from expanding and from being good corporate citizens because of increasing tariff rates.

"We believe in supporting the artists who make the songs that allow us to put a product on the street, but we believe in fair play. And I don't think being forced to pay multiple times for the same thing is fair," he said.

The committee also heard from representatives from the education sector at Tuesday's meeting. They also expressed general support for C-11 but want to see some amendments made.

A provision in the bill that would require students and teachers in online education to destroy notes with copyright-protected material within 30 days of the course finishing is stirring strong reaction.

"This amendment is unreasonable and impractical," said Cynthia Andrew with the Canadian School Boards Association. "It does not reflect current practices in online learning, where teachers reuse their course materials each year that they teach the same course."

The committee will hear from more groups representing musicians and artists on Wednesday.