Music Canada Admits Legal Services Causing Piracy to Drift Away

Legal services have long been pointed to as a solution to online copyright infringement. It seems even Music Canada is admitting to this as well.

For the better part of a decade now, multinational corporate rights holders have long said that enforcement is the key to stopping copyright infringement online. Because of this believe, major record labels and studios have long lobbied for things like mass litigation of their customers, site blocking and censorship, three strikes laws, anti-circumvention, and a whole lot more.

Critics, however, have long argued that the world has moved on with the advent of the Internet. So, rather then fighting against technological change, working with it is a much more productive solution. Unfortunately, the major corporations simply chose to focus on enforcement with the hopes that fans will finally give up and flock back to brick and mortar stores such as record stored and movie rental locations.

What followed is years of feet dragging and a reluctance to sign on to any online service. A reluctant music industry did ultimately sign on with Apple with the caveat of putting restrictive DRM in the music that is sold. Other services eventually landed deals and services that offered main stream music finally started to enter the market place. All this happened on the backdrop of the legacy industry pushing hard on three strikes and mass censorship laws that continue even to this day.

Now, during a hearing, the Recording Industry Association of America’s (RIAA) Canadian arm, Music Canada, found itself in a standing committee meeting. When asked about the status of illegal content, Music Canada’s president Graham Henderson admitted that “illegal content” is drifting away:

Music Canada was one of several witnesses that appeared before the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology this week as part of the copyright review. The group continued its campaign on the so-called value gap, largely ignoring huge increases in streaming revenues with claims about legislative reforms that bear little resemblance to the Canadian experience. While those arguments will be old news to the committee members, it was the discussion of piracy and government handouts that merit attention.

With respect to piracy, the industry acknowledged that unlicensed streaming has largely disappeared. When asked about the YouTube music channel Vevo, Music Canada’s Graham Henderson responded:

“98% of everything that’s on YouTube is licensed now, right, because we’re all remunerating it. The days of it all being illegal content is drifting away.”

Henderson went on to say that he wasn’t exactly sure who Vevo is, an odd comment given that it is owned by music labels Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group. In fact, Vevo recently struck an advertising deal with YouTube that highlights how the industry is capitalizing on the potential of ad-based streaming services.

For one thing, the admission is likely vindication to critics who have long argued that offering legal services is the way for the major corporate music industry to move forward in the age of the Internet. As Michael Geist commented, the idea that Music Canada doesn’t really know who Vevo is is certainly an odd comment. Given how much the company works with record labels and YouTube to put licensed content online for streaming, knowing what Vevo is is almost music industry 101. Almost everyone who uses YouTube regularly has seen content licensed by Vevo at one time or another.

One possibility for the reluctance to know who Vevo is might revolve around the idea that Music Canada doesn’t want to open itself to the idea that online content is proving to be a success story in Canada. After all, this is the same industry that is demanding a free $160 million bailout from the government. To admit that they are experiencing any kind of success in the industry at all would undercut the argument that the corporate industry desperately needs the money in the first place.

Another smaller reason Henderson might be reluctant to know who Vevo is could be that it would send a strong message to critics that they were right all along. In so doing, it lends even more credibility to what critics have to say about censorship proposals. Right now, Music Canada’s European counterparts are edging closer to having mass censorship powers via the Article 13 debate. Admitting in Canada that legal services are the way to go would run the risk of undermining those efforts to instill mass censorship – the current holy grail to killing off the open Internet once and for all.

It’s probable that the phrase “drifting away” is something Henderson wishes he could take back at this point. Even if one were to argue that this is simply all in the context of YouTube and nowhere else, the easy argument to make at that point for critics is to say that the entire open Internet operates similarly to YouTube. People can put anything they wish on it and users browse around to see what content they can view. That description fits both YouTube (which, at worst, is more restrictive than the open Internet) and the broader Internet itself. So, that argument is a very easy one to knock down from the get go.

How much lawmakers took notice or care to take notice of this remains to be seen. It is, after all, an inconsistency in the long standing narrative that illegal music is killing the industry and, unless something is done today to stop it, music will disappear forever. Regardless, these comments are certainly worth noting for future reference as we continue to move forward on these debates.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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