Canada’s Election: Is the iPod Tax a Non-Issue?

It’s been often discussed on mainstream broadcasters news programs like CBC and CTV. It’s even taken centre stage in a Conservative attack ad against all of his opponents. The question is, has it really taken hold in the online world or has it become a dud?

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

For those who are interested in technology related issues, there are plenty of subjects that can grab a persons interest in this election. These issues can include the issue of copyright, privacy, lawful access, the spectrum auction, artists rights, ACTA, Creative Commons, fair dealing, the moralities of file-sharing lawsuits, CETA, the more recent TPP agreement, free software, open software, crown copyright, ISP and telecom competition, broadband access and even last mile internet access to name a few. That’s what makes this push over the iPod tax issue so puzzling because it was actually one of the more minor issues that was brought up by the Conservative party. For the record, here is the attack ad in question as part of the more recent push to bring this issue to the fore-front:

The video was posted on YouTube on April 11. As of April 19th, the video has received a measely 7,800 views. With statistics like that, it’s hardly the vote grabbing and attention grabbing issue for young voters. So, what gives?

The original debate, that is, the removable storage levy debate, was never the largest issue in the online world to begin with. Sure, it did gain some attention originally, but not exactly from the parties at the time it was being discussed. The issue was simply relegated to the confines of a few legal web pages where some lobbyists were arguing over whether or not the technology industry should be subsidizing a dying music industry policy every time there’s a new advance in technology. Another interesting perspective is that if there’s a new levy, then maybe file-sharing should be legalized because artists are already compensated whenever that music is put in to a hard drive, cell phone, etc. I think, at best, the issue received some mixed reviews. What I do think is interesting though, is that the issue surrounding an artists right to be paid is suspiciously absent in all of this. Through the many debates I’ve witnessed or read about this issue, that issue of how artists should be paid these days is magically gone in the shadow of the iPod Tax issue raised by the Conservatives.

Another possible reason why this issue simply hasn’t gained any momentum is the fact that the iPod simply isn’t as trendy as it was a few years ago. Look at the iPod marketing between 2 and 7 years ago. There was a time when practically every contest geared toward a younger generation had an iPod as a prize. You had those famous ads of the silhouetted figure dancing around wearing or holding a white iPod. These days, people listen to their music on other MP3 players and cell phones. In short, the market is much more saturated with things that play MP3’s than half a dozen years ago. Apple, to my knowledge, has focused more on their iPhone and iPad products these days which is more multi-purpose than a classif iPod shuffle. In short, it’s possible that this is a non-issue because the iPod is a few tech generations old now. Having the iPod front and centre of an attack ad might not have as much bite as it would have years ago.

A third possibility was the issue of timing. This ad was posted on April 11th. The question is, what are people who would be most receptive to an ad campaign like this doing at the time? For those who are familiar with school schedules, students are entering their final exams. So while the Conservative party was screaming about how younger voters shouldn’t be voting for other parties, the targeted demographic was forehead deep in books either studying for final exams or putting the finishing touches on final projects. It’s hard to get the younger vote when they are focused on school at the time. Sure, some will notice, but it’s not exactly undivided attention either.

A fourth possible reason is that people in the online community are generally more sceptical than those who get their news strictly from the newspaper and TV given the one-way vs. two way nature of those mediums. Some people will go to sources that they trust like Michael Geist, Russell McOrmond, Howard Knopf and here at ZeroPaid to get the facts checked when it comes to copyright and related issues. So what do some of these seasoned veterans think about the iPod tax? The credibility seems to be thrown in to question.

Michael Geist commented as early as December on the issue saying that the Liberals have flatly stated they don’t suppose such an initiative despite what the Conservatives said. Another point was the original motion to bring forth the levy was a tie vote. The chair of the committee, a Conservative, voted in favour of it, therefore passing the motion. The debate made it to the commons where the debate was focused on whether or not artists should be compensated for their work. The idea was to extend the levy, currently for blank media, to other forms of digital storage that can theoretically include an iPod. Again, the debate was very different back then. Today, there seems to be no mention of compensating artists now that these ads are flying out.

Russel McOrmond points out that it was a Conservative that tabled the motion that started it all. McOrmond commented that the Conservative campaign website,, is “an embarrassingly inaccurate campaign website”.

In short, the iPod Tax campaign is known to have problems reflecting the facts correctly and accurately. Many people in the online world pick up very quickly when something is either wrong or misleading and often let the issue or campaign fall off in to the internet ether, never to be seen or heard from again.

It’s not just us that is proclaiming the issue a non-issue at this stage. Mark Blevis, a digital public affairs strategist, has reached a similar conclusion not just with the popularity of the video on YouTube, but with trends on Twitter as well. Blevis’ analysis of Twitter:

Tweets about the iPod tax make up just slightly more than 3/10ths of 1% of all election related tweets for the period of March 26 through April 15 (1,178 of 369,844 Tweets). Even if we remove the April 12th spike of 70,315 tweets (more than 50% of which was debate related) as a statistical anomaly (most days hover between 10,000 and 15,000 tweets), iPod tax related tweets only gain 1/10th of 1%.

In fact, the most tweets in one day on the iPod tax (338) barely edged out the Twitter “spanking” directed at @senatorjake (324) for his “attack dogs” tweet.

Blevis also noted that the Stop the iPod Tax campaign managed to get a total of 405 fans on Facebook which contained a “very mixed debate” taking place. Blevis concluded, “I expected a different result. It seemed logical that reminding Canadians a vote for the Liberals would mean a vote to pay an additional $75 on each purchase of an iPod would send people to the web with torches and pitchforks (whether or not the actual claim is true). Despite all the media attention, and the slick ads, it just doesn’t seem to land.”

So, is this just a case of voter apathy and the demographic simply never getting engaged in politics? I don’t think so. I think this is simply a campaign that missed the mark on virtually all counts. The timing was wrong, the facts weren’t presented accurately, and it was never the single largest debate to be had to begin with. For people engaged in the online world, that can be a concoction for disaster for anything, let alone a Canadian campaign.

The question is, what will gain interest in the younger demographics who can vote? I would put money on a well-funded campaign over two weeks that focused on the following:

1. Why is the government is engaging in secret trade agreements that would allow border security to seize your laptop, cell phone or MP3 player at the border?
2. Will the government enact a three strikes law on internet users that could disconnect internet users, even innocent users, from the internet without court oversight?
3. Why is the government making you pay for your legally paid for material more than once with legal restrictions on DRM or why can’t I legally format or time-shift because of the presence of DRM?
4. Why is the government demanding that all of our online conversations (whether private or not) be wire-tapped without a court order?
5. Will the government allow record labels to sue average people for millions of dollars for non-commercial infringement as seen in the US?

I bet that if one were to put forth a campaign that dealt with these five points, it’ll gain more momentum than the iPod tax issue. I think it’s a tragedy that most political parties aren’t pushing forward on these issues outside of one-on-one conversations and vague references on their platforms. I mean, talk about lost opportunities to engage with voters here.

What do you think? Is the iPod tax not that big of an issue? Could there be other issues that would more likely get your attention?

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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