Billy Bragg, NDP push for new law on music downloads

British folk singer Billy Bragg teamed up with Canadian songwriters and the NDP to advocate for copyright reform and a new approach to music downloads while on tour in Ottawa Friday.

There were no iPods, peer-to-peer file sharing sites or digital copyright wars back when Billy Bragg first belted out Waiting for the Great Leap Forward, but the tune seemed completely apropos for his latest political fight.

The legendary British folk singer and known supporter of labour rights and other political causes, appeared at a news conference in Ottawa Friday to advocate for copyright reform and a new approach to music downloads. He was in town to give a concert at the Bronson Centre and also sang for striking workers on the picket line outside the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Que.

Bragg was joined at the news conference by Safwan Javad of the Canadian blues band Wide Mouth Mason, NDP Heritage critic Charlie Angus and representatives of the Canadian Association of Songwriters.

"The Wii is not going back in the box," Bragg told reporters,  lamenting that young people these days save up for the popular Wii video game rather than for albums.

"Technology is moving forward, and we've got to go forward with  it."

Bragg and a host of other artists in Europe and across Canada  would like to see new ways develop of paying performers for music available online while still protecting downloaders who are sharing the product.

Music labels will often sell an artist's music catalogue to internet sites without giving a cut to the musician, Bragg said.

"We have a slogan that where money is made, artists must be paid," he said. "What's implicit in that slogan is that we should go after  those people who are making profit from giving our stuff away for  free or selling it online.

"The other edge of that particular argument is that people who are sharing files … really should not be within the reach of the copyright law."

The Canadian government consulted Canadians and representatives of the entertainment industry last fall about proposed changes to its sorely outdated copyright laws after facing overwhelming opposition to a bill tabled last year.

Bill C-61 would have made it illegal for any Canadian to circumvent digital copyright "locks" put on audio or video, making it impossible for people to share material with impunity.

One of the ideas offered by Angus would be to charge a levy on any MP3 player sold, as the government did for blank CDs and cassettes. The idea then was to use the levy to compensate artists for material that people who bought the CDs and tapes put on the blank media.

Don Quarles of the Canadian Association of Songwriters said another possibility would be to charge consumers an extra fee on their monthly internet bill. The money raised would go into a pot that would be redistributed among artists. How the downloaders would be differentiated from those who didn't exchange music remains to be explained.

"A licence fee of a few dollars a month paid by those who wish to file share would create a new business model, one that creates good value for the consumer and ease of access to the music while  ensuring the music creators and rights-holders are fairly  compensated for the use and enjoyment of their work," said Quarles.