Canadian music industry agitates for music licensing changes

music canada logoIf U.S. legislative bodies and lobbying groups are neck-deep in music-licensing and copyright issues during this “Summer of Copyright,” their northern neighbors are wading into turbulent waters, too. A protest of Canadian music royalty rates, set by the government in May, is underway. (Alan Cross, a Canadian industry blogger employed by Songza, notified us of the controversy.)

Canadian law differs substantially from the U.S. in regulating music copyright and licensing rates, as do the stakehholders. Re:Sound is a Performing Rights Organization (PRO) representing artists and labels, as SoundExchange does in the U.S. Re:Sound has filed an application for judicial review of the Canadian Copyright Board’s rate-setting action of May. The main complaint is that the newly established rates are set at about one-tenth of U.S. rates.

The royalty rate under scrutiny is 10.2 cents per thousand plays. During the lead-up to that rate-setting decision, Re:Sound argued for a rate between one and two dollars per thousand plays.

As some observers point out, there are structural differences between the two countries’ laws that arguably make direct comparisons misleading. The situation is also complicated by the several types of licensing fees paid to music rights-holders.

Whatever the merits and breakdowns of the judicial review argument, Re:Sound’s application is supported by Music Canada, a lobbying group that could be compared to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Music Canada’s website carries a list of petition supporters, most of which appear to be labels.

Whatever the outcome of the application for judicial review, the rate in question is a retroactive one, for a royalty period that runs through 2012. So, the Canadian copyright controversy is like starlight coming from distant suns — it’s backward in time. And so it goes, with law petulantly following behind reality.

Brad Hill