Music Canada’s CEO, Graham Henderson, Announces Departure

Controversial figure, Graham Henderson, is leaving Music Canada (formerly Canadian Recording Industry Association). The Announcement came in a press release.

In more recent years, the name Graham Henderson doesn’t really come up all that often when it comes to technology related news. Of course, if you’ve been around for as long as I have, it’s not that hard to recognize that name.

In a press release published on Music Canada, the announcement came that Graham Henderson is departing from Music Canada. From the press release:

The Music Canada Board of Directors and Graham Henderson, President and Chief Executive Officer, announced this afternoon Graham will be stepping down after serving more than 15 years.

“I have been given the great honour and privilege of serving the members of Music Canada and the wider music community for 15 thrilling and rewarding years. And throughout this entire time I have had the unalloyed joy of working with the most incredibly dedicated, effective team of music lovers in the world: my staff!” Mr. Henderson said. “I have absolutely every confidence that the staff, the Board and everyone at Sony, Universal and Warner will go forward from strength to strength. I hope that my experience and insight may be of some value down the road.”

On behalf of the Board, Chairperson Jennifer M. Sloan said, “We thank Graham for guiding Music Canada through a period of phenomenal growth and transition, including his dogged domestic and international championing of copyright reform and protection. Graham has led Music Canada’s transformation, strengthening our executive team and developing a clear strategic path forward as the trusted voice of the music industry in Canada and a recognized global partner.”

Henderson’s tenure pretty much encompasses my entire writing career, so we are going back quite a ways to understand just how long ago that was. Earlier on, Music Canada was then known as the Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA). Back then, that organization has gone through numerous controversies. Perhaps the earliest vivid memory that comes to mind was when almost every single Canadian record label left the organization in such dramatic fashion. It allowed me to write the rather direct headline, CRIA Falling Apart at the time (2006).

At the time, CRIA was pushing hard for a US style DMCA to be put in place in Canada. One of the things that CRIA, and Henderson, pushed for is a notice-and-takedown system. At the time, the concept of this being little more than a massive money grab by major record labels was a possible theory, but not entirely proven. Still, everyone knew that this all meant mass file-sharing lawsuits being filed against teenagers from coast to coast to coast. It, thus, became a broadly condemned aspect of their lobbying at the time.

At the time, Henderson made the rather bizarre comment that everyone wanted this kind of law anyway. He suggested that even those committing acts of copyright infringement wanted this law because it would let them know that such activity is “wrong”. Otherwise, they would keep going in their acts of copyright infringement in the absence of that law. Of course, this had no real bearing on reality back then just like it would make no sense now. Still, it was a strategy that was pushed anyway.

Additionally, at the time, Henderson also pushed for anti-circumvention laws. It would be the same as the US style anti-circumvention law that has been responsible for hamstringing innovation and technological advancement in the US for well over a decade now.

While the legislation, mercifully, never ultimately passed, even more dramatic fallout occurred. 6 major Canadian record labels responded to this push by announcing that they are separating from CRIA. They cited the fact that CRIA was pushing for laws that would enable mass lawsuits against alleged file-sharers as a reason as well as the fact that CRIA was making these copyright law pushes on their behalf. As it turns out, they disagreed and didn’t want to be part of that. In one fell swoop, the move ultimately exposed CRIA to the criticism that they only represent foreign multinational corporations because of the few Canadian record labels that remained on board, non of them had any real influence in the organization.

To even further compound things, Steven Page of the Barenaked Ladies, along with the label, Nettwerk, created the Canadian Music Creators Coalition along with several other Canadian artists. With that coalition, they even took CRIA head on with their views on copyright. That coalition also got the backing of the federal NDP.

Other moments we remember of Henderson’s tenure include the moments where his own comments wound up debunking earlier claims that the Canadian music industry was dying all because of file-sharing. At one point, Henderson made the remarks that Canada = Deadwood in 2006. Yet, in 2007, Henderson’s own remarks wound up debunking his own claims when he admitted that digital music sales grew by 122%. Other stories also refuted the claims like how, in 2006, music sales climbed by 25% and how the IFPI also shared statistics in 2009 further debunking the claims that the music industry is all but dead at that point in time.

In 2010, Henderson, along with Music Canada, caught additional controversy when it was discovered that the major record labels, with assistance with Music Canada, ultimately blocked online listening platform, Pandora from entering Canada. Pandora, of course, is an online service that allowed users to legally listen to music and helped people discover new music they might be interested in buying. Pandora, of course, was once available to Canadians, but major record labels kept getting it removed from various countries including Canada. Henderson argued that the reason why Pandora wasn’t coming to Canada ever again is because the major record labels couldn’t sue file-sharers all that easily in the country. Therefore, they were effectively not permitting the service to be made available in Canada.

After numerous failed attempts to import Americas broken copyright system into Canada, it seemed that all that political baggage did eventually wear on CRIA. So, in 2011, CRIA renamed themselves and called themselves Music Canada. At the time, they said that they would be focusing more on promoting music rather than touching that whole copyright profile. With such disastrous results, really, who could blame them? If anything, though, the idea that they would re-think their focus and focus more on music promotion was actually a very welcome thing for digital rights advocates.

Of course, that phase really only lasted for about, at best, 4 years. By 2015, Music Canada announced that they would be going straight back into full blown lobbying mode. There were some efforts to push for the failed three strikes law in Canada simply because other countries were doing it. That push ultimately failed.

In 2018, Music Canada made a push to get Canada to implement mass Internet censorship. That push, of course, failed when the Canadian regulator, the CRTC, rejected the proposal outright later that year.

By that point, it seemed like even they were realizing that history was repeating itself. Music Canada was catching loads of negative publicity, and in spite of massive amounts of lobbying, failing to get the laws they were pushing for anyway. So, in the same year, Music Canada simply went the direct rout and demanded a $160 million bailout from the government. Later on, after assessing what is happening in the Canadian market place, even Music Canada found itself admitting that legal services were causing music piracy to “drift away“. This after many in the tech sector found itself doing almost all of the legwork to create a system that competed against online copyright infringement.

There were, of course, plenty of other controversies that occurred with CRIA/Music Canada during Henderson’s tenure, but that is a decent sampling of them. Of course, some Canadians might think that a different person taking up the reigns might mean a different approach. Chances are, for the most part, that answer will likely be “no”. Just remember, the board of Music Canada seemed quite happy with Henderson at the helm. Also, they will be deciding who takes his place as well. Chances are, there will be little change as far as attitudes are concerned about technology. What that tone might be and how hard such anti-technology pushes would end up being is anyone’s guess.

One thing that is notable about Henderson’s remarks as he departed is the organizations he was mentioning on the way out. That comment is, of course, “the Board and everyone at Sony, Universal and Warner will go forward from strength to strength”. He basically said his goodbyes and mentioned the three major multinational record labels. This kind of goes back to the criticism that the organization only represents the foreign corporate interests. Henderson’s departing words does support that perception almost to the letter. The only Canadians he is really mentioning are those that are on the board and members of Music Canada staff.

While the last year or so has been relatively quiet on this front, it’ll be interesting to see if that quiet continues with the new CEO or if the organization will actually continue to get along with Canadians and technology. Hard to say at this point, but we’ll be on the lookout for any new developments as they arise.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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