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Supreme Court to rule on online music royalties

Judgments expected from the Supreme Court on Thursday could change the way Canadians listen to online music.

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The Supreme Court of Canada will hand down several judgments on Thursday that could change the way we listen to music online – including a ruling on whether 30-second song previews in digital stores are an infringement of copyright.

Among the five rulings will be a determination if Internet service providers are responsible for royalty payments when consumers listen to or download music online.

The ISPs – including Rogers, BCE and Telus – say the wording of the Copyright Act on what constitutes a "telecommunication" to the "public" is unclear.

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In the case of music, the Act's current language means listening to music online counts as a public performance, meaning ISPs are required to pay performance royalties to the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN).

ISPs, however, argue that the definition of "public" is misconstrued when talking about the Internet.

Should the court rule in favour of the ISPs, then the companies may no longer need to pay royalties to copyright owners for music consumed online. If this is the case, the ISPs say in court filings that they hope the ruling will lead to clearer copyright rules for other kinds of intellectual property that is consumed online, including books, games and magazines.

The court is also expected to rule on whether performance royalties can be collected for music used in video games, and whether record labels and recording artists are eligible for royalties from movie and TV soundtracks. (Currently, they're only collected for music publishers and songwriters.)

The fifth ruling will examine whether or not photocopying textbooks for classroom use in public schools is considered "fair dealing" under copyright law.

All five cases were initially heard by the Supreme Court in December, 2011.

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About the Author

Josh O’Kane is a reporter with The Globe and Mail's Report on Business. Since joining the paper in 2011, he has told stories from New Brunswick to Nairobi. More

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