Since its inception, copyright has consistently grown to become longer, broader and stronger; writes Glyn Moody, as most recently evidenced by a 30 page reform proposal from the Canadian Music Policy Coalition.
Guest post by Glyn Moody of Techdirt
One of the striking features of copyright is how over three centuries, it always seems to become longer, broader and stronger. Just as a matter of probabilities, you might expect copyright to become a little shorter once in a while, but strangely that doesn't appear to happen. One consequence of the copyright ratchet is that the public is often cheated. Copyright is based on a bargain: that a time-limited, government-backed intellectual monopoly will be granted to creators in return for allowing the work to enter the public domain at the end of that limited period. Instead, what has happened repeatedly is that the copyright term has been extended before works enter the public domain, thus denying society its promised payback. If anything deserves to be called "copyright theft", it is this.
The copyright ratchet is on display once more in a new op-ed Michael Geist has written for The Globe and Mail. He reports on some documents obtained under Freedom of Information laws, including a 30-page reform proposal from the Canadian Music Policy Coalition, an umbrella group representing 17 music associations. It's a submission to the Canadian government regarding a copyright review that is currently underway in that country. According to Geist, the document calls for:
radical changes that would spark significant new consumer fees and Internet regulation. The plan features new levies on smartphones and tablets, Internet service provider tracking of subscribers and content blocking, longer copyright terms, and even the industry's ability to cancel commercial agreements with Internet companies if the benefits from the deal become "disproportionate."
You can read the full details of how the Canadian music industry wants to ratchet copyright up a notch or two in Geist's post. With remarkable honesty, the report is entitled "Sounding Like a Broken Record", and the familiar demands to make copyright longer, broader and stronger are indeed tiresomely repetitive and anachronistic. But what makes those one-sided proposals to demand more money from the public, while depriving them of basic rights like privacy and freedom of speech, even more outrageous is the fact that the Canadian music industry is thrivingunder the current legal framework:
The Canadian music market is growing much faster than the world average, with Canada jumping past Australia last year to become the sixth largest music market in the world. Music collective SOCAN, a coalition member, has seen Internet streaming revenues balloon from [Canadian] $3.4 million in 2013 to a record-setting $49.3 million in 2017.
Moreover, data confirms that music piracy has diminished dramatically in Canada. Music Canada reports that Canada is below global averages for "stream ripping", the process of downloading streamed versions of songs from services such as YouTube. Last month Sandvine reported that file sharing technology BitTorrent is responsible for only 1.6 per cent of Canadian Internet traffic, down from as much as 15 per cent in 2014.
Since shrinking markets and increasing levels of unauthorized downloads are routinely used to justify a strengthening of copyright legislation, it seems only fair that the public should be allowed to argue that copyright law in Canada can be dialed back now that the reverse is taking place. But the music, film and publishing industries and their lobbyists would scream in horrified outrage if such a thing were even whispered. After all, everyone knows that when it comes to copyright, enough is never enough.