Since I began performing in the mid-1970s, Canada has always valued its artists. And yet, in spite of all the changes our industry has faced in recent years, what hasn't kept pace is a key government tool that supports our arts and cultural industries - copyright. In fact, Canadian copyright laws haven't been updated since 1997 - four years before the first iPod was introduced by Steve Jobs.
So, with baited breath, many Canadian musicians - myself included - waited for this government to finally introduce a copyright bill that would meet the challenges of today's digital era. But we also feared such a bill would try to create a fake divide between creators and users. We worried that, rather than put forward a balanced approach, the government would try to pit musicians against fans in order to score political points. And that's just what it has done with Bill C-32.
Professional artists are innovators; like any other innovator, we need to know that our work - when it's good, when it's enjoyed - will have value. And that we will maintain some control over it and be able to benefit from it if the market likes it. If we don't have this incentive to create, we will become hobbyists, and consumers won't have the content choice they enjoy and demand. They will, instead, have to turn to content from other countries, thereby destroying a big chunk of our economy, thousands of jobs, not to mention our national voice and identity. That hurts all of us.
In 1997, the government made it legal for people to copy from vinyl records to cassette tapes or blank CDs. But in allowing this common practice, a private copying levy was introduced to compensate artists when their music was copied. The biggest problem with Bill C-32 is that it legalizes format shifting at the expense of artists. It fails to build on existing royalty systems such as private copying, which for many artists is a key source of income. Rather than update our laws to take into account that most music today is listened to digitally, the government is refusing to extend the private copying levy to digital audio recorders such as iPods.
This is a real slap in the face. Every piece of the income pie is important, especially for artists who often struggle to get by.
I've had a successful career but I'm by no means a millionaire. I live in a small apartment and, like most musicians, I rely on many small streams of revenue to make ends meet. The private copying levy is one of those streams and losing it can make the difference between being able to create the music and art that Canadians enjoy - and not.
To artists, this is tantamount to taking away our rights and deciding we shouldn't be paid for our work. It boggles my mind why the government doesn't believe artists deserve to get paid.
I've joined organizations such as ACTRA, AFM Canada and the Canadian Private Copying Collective (CPCC) in Ottawa to urge the Conservative government to support Canadian musicians. All that's needed is for Bill C-32 to extend the private copying levy so that it would apply to MP3 players.
Especially in today's digital environment, our cultural policies should support our artists. We need balanced copyright legislation that turns the challenges presented by the digital world into real opportunities. Canadian artists want our music to be as widely available to Canadian and international audiences as possible. But we also want to make a living. We can't simply work for free; a healthy, creative country that values creators knows that. More than 20 countries have levies on digital audio recorders. For the sake of Canadian music, let's work together to urge the government to fix Bill C-32.
Carole Pope is an award-winning singer/composer.
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