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Five Things You Need to Know About Private Copying

10.15.20

How we copy music keeps changing. How rights holders get paid has to keep up.

As the country grapples with a global pandemic, it has never been more important for recording artists, composers, songwriters, music publishers and labels to be able to earn income from their creative output.

Legislative change was certainly vital for a functioning, world-class music sector in Canada long before the arrival of COVID-19. Now, in conjunction with short-term direct government supports to sustain the sector, copyright reform will be more essential than ever to a music industry faced with re-building.

Here’s what you need to know about private copying.

What is private copying?

Private copying is making copies of your music collection for your own personal use, anywhere, anytime. Private copying presents a unique challenge: technology keeps making it easier for consumers to copy music, but it is not always possible for music rights-holders to authorize, prohibit or monetize those copies.

In recognition of this challenge, Canada’s Copyright Act was changed in 1997 to allow Canadians to copy music onto audio recording media for their private use. In return, the private copying levy was created to remunerate recording artists, songwriters, composers, music publishers and labels for that use of their work.

How it works: rights holders are paid a small royalty (a ‘levy’) whenever a business sells a product that can store copies of music. Consumers get their music anywhere, anytime; music drives up the value and sales of tech companies’ products; and music creators get paid for unlicensed private copies. Everybody wins!

What is the current state of the private copying regime in Canada?

For many years since its creation, the private copying regime was an important source of royalties, generating a total of over $300 million for over 100,000 music rights-holders. Unfortunately, the regime has been limited since 2008 to a single medium, now virtually obsolete: recordable CDs. That means royalties have plummeted from $38 million in 2004 to $1.1 million in 2019 – even as annual copying activity more than doubled.

While streaming may have taken over from the days of mixed tapes and burning CDs, Canadians still make billions of private copies on devices, for listening offline. Wherever possible, rights-holders license the streaming, downloading and other copying of their music, but the reality is still that not all copying activity can be licensed.

Our most recent research shows that there are 5.95 billion tracks of music currently stored on

Canadians’ phones and tablets, and that half of those copies are unlicensed. Unlicensed, and no levy – that is a lot of revenue out of the pockets of music rights holders. The Copyright Act has not kept pace with technology, leaving rights holders unpaid. Shouldn’t every copy count?

How do we fix it?

With minimal revisions to the Copyright Act, the private copying regime would be restored to what it was originally intended to be – a flexible, technologically-neutral system that monetizes private copying that cannot be controlled by rights holders.

Specifically, our proposed amendments to the Copyright Act would be to allow the regime to apply to both audio recording media and devices. CPCC also proposes minor revisions to the Act to clarify that this exception to copyright infringement does not extend to offering or obtaining music illegally, whether through an unlicensed online service, stream-ripping, or by stealing an album from a store – such activity remains illegal. The private copying regime is for copying that cannot be controlled.

Passage of these amendments would make it possible for the CPCC to ask the Copyright Board of Canada to approve a levy on the smartphones and tablets where Canadians now make their private copies. The Copyright Board would ultimately determine the value of any approved levy on devices, but CPCC’s proposal is a levy that is a small fraction of the cost of a device, comparable to the average levy payable on a smartphone in Europe: around CDN$3, or the price of a cup of coffee. That would generate about $40 million in royalties per year.

What are the next steps?

With help from supporters, we have been asking the Government to amend the Copyright Act to ensure that the private copying regime is made technologically neutral. Moving forward with this legislative change will create a true marketplace solution for the music industry, which will help to restart the Canadian music economy as it recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The time for change is now. The Government is right now drafting copyright reform legislation to be tabled in the Spring, acting on what they heard in the recent Copyright Review.   We need your help to ensure that private copying reform remains high on their agenda.

How can you help?

There are a number of ways you can help:

Thanks to our partners at CPCC for providing this information.

Re:Sound is a CPCC member and a representative of CPCC’s performer/maker college. Re:Sound nominates three directors to the CPCC board; these Directors are Re:Sound President, Lou Ragagnin, Lyette Bouchard of Adisq, and Anna Bucci of ACTRA-RACS.

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