Major music labels, including Universal, Sony and Warner, are warning against regulations under Ottawa’s Online Streaming Act that could lead to people “spoofing” their online location outside the country to avoid being force fed Canadian music they don’t like.
They are urging the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, which is drawing up regulations covering streaming platforms under the act, also known as Bill C-11, to take a light touch and allow platforms such as Spotify to continue to curate music based on people’s listening tastes.
Failing to do so could drive Canadians away from legitimate streaming platforms to illegal sites – robbing musicians of royalties – or to seek out foreign versions of platforms to avoid being forced to listen to Canadian music not to their taste.
The Online Streaming Act, which got royal assent earlier this year, modernizes Canada’s broadcast laws to include platforms such as Spotify, Netflix, Apple Music and YouTube. It requires music- and film-streaming platforms to promote certified Canadian content to make it easier to find.
Streaming is the most popular way to listen to music in Canada, representing 79 per cent of the market for recorded music, according to Spotify.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Patrick Rogers, chief executive officer of Music Canada, which represents the major music labels, said they support doing more to promote Canadian music. But he warned that regulations should not make streaming platforms impose Canadian music contrary to people’s tastes – for example, by inserting it into curated playlists.
“We’re the music industry – we know what happens when we stop serving our fans. They go elsewhere,” he said. “There’s a lot of good stuff going on and we want to help make everything more Canadian the best that we can. But it’s not by finding ways to interrupt people’s experience.”
Making Spotify and others do this to comply with the Online Streaming Act risks listeners seeking music streaming platforms abroad, such as in the U.S. or Britain, by spoofing another location through a VPN, he warned.
Virtual Private Networks are widely available and create an encrypted “tunnel,” making it look as though a computer is based in another country.
Mr. Rogers warned that removing streaming platforms’ flexibility also risks driving more people to pirate platforms, which pay no royalties.
In a submission to the CRTC, which is carrying out a consultation on regulations implementing the Online Streaming Act, Music Canada urged the commission not to “restrict user choice on streaming platforms.”
“If this new regulatory framework introduces friction in the listening experience, users will be driven to unlicensed music and VPNs,” it said. It added that 28 per cent of Canadians – and 42 per cent of 16- to 24-year-olds – currently obtain music from unlicensed sites.
Mr. Rogers said he was not worried that “no one’s going to like” Canadian music. But he cautioned that offering Canadian music outside genres people choose – for example promoting Quebec rap to someone who listens to 1970s British rock or classical music – could confuse the algorithm. If people fail to listen, or turn off a piece of music enough in Canada, this could suggest it isn’t popular, potentially downgrading how it is promoted in Canada and worldwide.
“My concern is, if you like 1970s British rock and we give you something different – no matter where it’s from – you’re going to skip,” he said.
In its submission to the CRTC, Spotify said streaming is a “viable alternative to online piracy” and helps Canadian artists reach audiences here and abroad.
“Rather than push music in a one-size-fits-all manner, we tailor our efforts to drive discovery at those times when users are most open to new music or podcasts,” it said. “Our personalized recommendations take into account many factors, including what the user is listening to and when, which songs they are adding to playlists, the listening habits of people who have similar tastes, and much more.”
It said it has a variety of Canadian playlists, including one spotlighting Quebec artists, new music in Canada and Indigenous artists.
“It is essential that any regulation does not override user preferences and that users are provided with personalized recommendations to suit their tastes,” Spotify told The Globe in a statement.
The act will make streaming platforms not only promote Canadian music but pay into funds and contribute to Canadian creative industries.
Mr. Rogers said the major music labels think royalties should not count toward the streaming platforms’ contribution payments. He said the industry would support the creation of a new fund to encourage Canadian artists, including one “leveraging commercial expertise” to help kickstart and promote the careers of musicians seeking commercial success.
In its submission, the Canadian Artists Network urged the CRTC to ensure that funds also support Canadian musicians and actors with established careers but who were now being sidelined because of their age.