CRIA’s Return? Music Canada Announces Copyright Lobbying Intentions

Music Canada, formerly known as CRIA (Canadian Recording Industry Association), has announced in a press release that their next lobbying effort intends “to rebalance the copyright regime and ensure the business needs of the music sector are met.” For long time supporters of digital rights, the timing of this could signal the beginning of an all too familiar battle.

Music Canada has issued a press release right as the Canadian federal government transitions from Conservative party rule to Liberal party rule. Here’s what the organization said in part:

Yesterday Canadians voted for change and elected a new federal government. Music Canada congratulates Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau, and we look forward to working with him and the newly elected government to rebalance the copyright regime and ensure the business needs of the music sector are met.

We are pleased that the Liberal government has committed to taking a leadership role to initiate preliminary consultations for the 2017 Copyright Review. The Liberal government’s Copyright Review promises to give full consideration to the views of artists and creators. This is an opportunity to ensure that copyright legislation works for the 21st century.

The press release pointed to a statement also recently posted by the Liberal party which simply focused on investment of the Canadian arts. If there was any mention of copyright in that statement, we didn’t catch it.

For those who are familiar with Canada’s history on the copyright debate, this statement by Music Canada may echo the mid-2000’s. Back then, Music Canada was known as CRIA (Canadian Recording Industry Association). At the time, the organization lobbied for a laundry list of anti-digital rights laws including a Canadian DMCA (complete with anti-circumvention laws), copyright term extension, the importation of US style lawsuits against alleged file-sharers, and even the importation of a three strikes law. CRIA became one of the big players fighting for such changes in the law along with organizations like Access Copyright (notorious for the infamous Captain Copyright campaign that was ultimately shelved in 2006).

While there were those fighting for an extremely strict copyright regime in Canada, there were those that fought back. This included people and organizations like myself, Michael Geist, Howard Knopf, Russell McOrmond, Online Rights Canada, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), CIPPIC, the NDP, and countless artists, other organizations, and individuals. The push-back grew so intense, that many of the Canadian record labels separated from CRIA citing a difference of opinion with where the organization was moving on the issue of copyright. One label initiated the “Save the Music fan” initiative while some Canadian artists formed the Canadian Music Creators Coalition (CMCC) which looked at more progressive solutions on the copyright file.

Arguably, things could have turned out very different if CRIA succeeded in getting, for instance, a three strikes law in place. Canada could have been another New Zealand where the infamous “Skynet” law was put in place. Alleged file-sharers were given notices of infringement. If they were accused a third time, record labels would initiate fines that were expected to range in the thousands of dollars. In New Zealand, however, the constitution prevailed and fines were pulled back to a few hundred dollars. RIANZ, an organization initiating these strike notices, ultimately allowed the Skynet law to “gather dust” because they weren’t being rewarded with the blockbuster fines they were seeking. This guilt until proven innocent campaign caused innocent people to either receive strike notices or be brought before a tribunal on copyright accusations they likely did not commit. Even if a clear case could have been made that they weren’t the ones behind the IP address, pressure to pay the fines would have been quite intense. The stress people no doubt went through and the bad publicity that ensued may not have been worth it. The decision for rightsholders to pull back could have been seen as an admission that the whole thing was a huge policy mistake. For Canadian digital rights advocates, the thought that this could have been the same picture in Canada likely sends shivers down spines.

CRIA was ultimately reduced to a small handful of small record labels and the big four multinational record labels. As a result, some even mocked CRIA by calling them the Canadian Recording Industry Association of America (a play on the Recording Industry Association of America). Joking aside, there were those that felt that CRIA was little more than a Canadian arm for the RIAA given the weight the big four major record labels have in influencing the organization. The organization continued to fight for things like the Canadian DMCA and a three strikes law, but they ultimately decided to rebrand themselves in 2011 as Music Canada. In the midst of their rebranding back then, the organization made the following comments:

“CRIA has been very focussed on copyright reform for many years and we fully expect that our efforts will be rewarded with a modern copyright framework in Canada,” Henderson told Billboard. “But our role is also evolving and it was felt that in order to best support our members as they rebuild the marketplace, we needed an invigorated brand and direction.”

While CRIA’s campaign did seem like a write-off by this stage, it wasn’t as though the organization never gained anything before or since then. The Conservative government did pass a copyright reform bill that contained anti-circumvention laws. In 2015, the organization managed to get copyright term extension in place. Outside of a few skirmishes on single issues, the organization was relatively quiet on the copyright front compared to the mid-2000’s. While things weren’t completely quiet, there was a sort of calm for years in the country.

Of course, now things are in a state of transition in Canada. The Liberal party, who has a long history of simply doing whatever major corporations demanded, is back in power. Earlier, we gave a rundown of what the Liberals may have in store for the future of copyright and offer reasons why the future doesn’t exactly look bright.

On a national level, the timing of Music Canada’s latest announcement might seem to indicate that they feel they can return to the old days. Indeed, back in the mid-2000’s when the major battle for copyright was going down, it was non other than the Liberal party who was in power and were seemingly siding with the organization on a host of issues. It’s not out of the question that maybe the organization feels that they can do what they did while they were still called CRIA, only this time, get a completely different result.

What is new is the looming shadow of the TPP which features a host of copyright policies that would roll back a lot of progressive policies Canada has achieved such as a notice-and-notice regime and a limitation of fines for non-commercial infringement. Unlike the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), these policies are bundled into a much more comprehensive set of international policies – some of which may even include provisions surrounding trade. The TPP will likely be seen as future must-pass legislation. This may factor into Music Canada’s decision to once again try and bring in some more extreme copyright laws into Canada. Perhaps, the organization is thinking that they can help usher in the extreme copyright provisions in the TPP.

While it’s difficult to say for certain what’s going on behind the scenes, this is one way to read into the language coming out from Music Canada. Certainly, there is a marked similarity in language between when CRIA became Music Canada (noting the focus on copyright), and now (again, the focus on copyright and the so-called need for a new balance for the 21st century). Does this mean the beginning of a sort of copyright debate 2.0 nearly a decade after the last battle or is this merely congratulatory gesture by Music Canada for the incoming Liberal party? It’s hard to say for certain where this is headed or how intense things could get, but there would certainly be reason for digital rights organizations and individuals to raise a few eyebrows on the matter.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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