CRIA, Why Canada Can’t Have Nice Things Like Pandora

If you ever wanted the real story on why innovative music services cannot exist in Canada, you couldn’t ask for a more modern story then Pandora’s relationship with Canada.

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

Pandora is a music service that was launched in 2005. It was a service that helped music fans find more music in line with the kinds of music that they were interested in. It was also one of the new ways users didn’t have to rely on p2p to sample new kinds of music that they never heard of.

In fact, I gave it a spin at around 2006 and found out about an artist known as TeeBee – an artist more inline with my electronica taste in music and figured that this was a very promising service.

The major record labels became involved shortly after. The good news was that the major entertainment industry seems to have a well used policy when it came to new innovation in entertainment that could help the industry move into a more modern time and stands to earn the industry millions in revenue. The bad news was that policy appears to be: ban it, block it, and kill it with fire. In 2007, the party was over as the entertainment industry used local American laws to crack down on the service and forced the company to block anyone outside of the US from using the service. The only people able to use the service now were either American or those who were savvy enough to use a proxy thanks to IP restrictions.

As a result, many who might have used the service simply reverted to other forms of music acquisition – either going back to p2p or to services that offer independent content. It was clear back in 2007 that labels demanding huge royalty rates was a deal breaker anywhere outside of the US.

Fast forward a full 3 years later to 2010. Pandora is still not in Canada and the service blocks potential Canadian interest. The reason? “astronomical” royalty fees Tim Westergren, founder of Pandora said.

“Radio delivered over AM/FM in Canada pays a rate of 2.1 per cent of revenue,” Westergren writes.

“In other words, the Canadian music labels are demanding that radio delivered over a mobile phone via the internet pay over 20 times what radio delivered over AM/FM pays.”

Effectively, CRIA record labels blocked Pandora from entering Canada – the same record labels that said that companies wouldn’t enter Canada because of copyright laws being not what they (major record labels) want them to be. In the mean time, over the years, artists hoping to be heard through services like Pandora are completely out of luck if they want to reach a worldwide audience. If an artist wanted to promote themselves, Pandora is no longer the best method thanks to the actions of the record labels – the artists now have to look elsewhere. In short, CRIA saw this innovative service that could benefit the industry, grabbed it by the scruff of the neck and tossed it out of Canada screaming, “Don’t come back!”

So where is CRIA in all of this? After censoring artists featured on Pandora from people outside the US, they must have an answer to all of this. We learned that Pandora actually does have an explanation:

Graham Henderson, president of the Canadian Recording Industry Association, cited widespread illegal music downloading in Canada as the real reason why services like Pandora wouldn’t want to come here. “Why would you spend a lot of money trying to build a service in Canada when Canadians take so much without paying for it?” he said.

So, in other words, CRIA wants to block attractive alternatives to p2p from entering Canada until some magical improbable law would stop it first. A standard chicken and egg approach really. Services are starting up to address the gaps in the market that p2p fills and the only reason they are attractive to customers is because its a viable alternative to p2p in the first place. The record labels simply say that because p2p exists in the first place, these same services that do offer an alternative to p2p cannot set foot in to the country. In other words, with p2p, there are no services allowed in Canada. Without p2p, such services probably wouldn’t exist in the first place.

Many have already dubbed CRIAs explanation as the “blame the public” approach.

Some observers suggested that the fact that Canada doesn’t have Pandora means that Canada is left out of the 21st century music party. I would disagree to that sentiment because other services do exist that Canadians can use. There is CBC radio 3, Magnatune, Jamendo, ArtistServer, SoundClick, Section Z, Newgrounds Audio Portal (my personal favorite), OpSound, CCMixter, the FMA, Overclocked, the eMule Content Database and the Canadian Pirate Party’s CAPT to name a number of sites that offer music to a worldwide audience. So really, there is no reason to wait for Pandora when there are oceans worth of free music services out there available to Canadians if Canadians wanted to listen to something they haven’t heard of before. In fact, sites like the ones above are a fantastic way to protest what the labels have done to Pandora – listening to music they have absolutely no control over.

So really, maybe Canada can’t have nice things like Pandora because CRIA stonewalled the service. That doesn’t mean Canadians can’t listen to alternative services – services that do not benefit the major record labels to be exact. You don’t always get what you want (i.e. Pandora), but sometimes, you get what you need.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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