Canadian Artists who've been paying attention know that there's been an ongoing discussion in Canada over the last two years as our Federal government tries to get its act together and haul our copyright laws into the 21st Century.
No matter where you stand on the issues, I think you can agree that the process is not going all that well.
Copyright is hard for most people (even working writers) to understand and just when anybody thinks they've got a firm handle on it, some new technology or a guy with a lot of money invested in a cartoon mouse comes along and completely warps the rules.
Vested interests like record companies and film studios want to apply all kinds of digital locks and other technologies to prevent people who've legally purchased a CD or DVD (or downloaded a digital file) from being able to copy it to another device or media platform (like a hard drive or an iPod) so their product isn't "shared" to the point where they don't make a profit for producing it.
Consumers want to buy something once and watch or listen to it however and whenever they damn well please. Because -- well -- they paid for it and how many times are they supposed to pay for the same song or movie...
Most artists are usually just over the moon that somebody paid for something they created even once. But every now and then you get somebody like Garth Brooks, who used to (and maybe still does) sue 2nd hand record stores that dared to sell any of his catalogue because it meant he wasn't getting the royalties from their customers buying a new CD.
Meanwhile, schools and libraries and people who want to mash-up and repurpose need special dispensations or they can't continue to do what they do.
And us creative types just want to get paid for what we do, so we can afford to keep doing it.
To some people, copyright means outright ownership and for others it signifies participation in the ongoing exploitation of an artistic creation.
Basically, everybody wants a slice of the pie. The point of Copyright legislation is to make sure what they each get served renders them happy enough to keep making or buying more pie.
A couple of decades ago, one of the Canadian solutions to some of these issues was to levy a fee on all blank media that could be used to copy music. So if you bought blank tape, writable CDs or DVDs you paid a few cents into a fund that was distributed to the people who created music.
This wasn't fair to the people who were buying disks to back up their accounting files or send grandma digital pictures of the kids, but it was the best system anybody could come up with at the time and a few cents per disk wasn't breaking anybody's budget.
It also didn't take into account that the technology would evolve so people could copy movies or TV shows. But when is that kind of governmental limit of vision ever a surprise…
According to stats collected, that system has so far delivered $184 Million to music rights holders in Canada. And that would seem to be great news for Canadian musicians and something the rest of us should try to get in on.
So extending this type of levy to digital devices like iPods, Smartphones, even flash and hard drives (the places to which a great deal of both purchased and shared material ends up) became one of the suggestions in the copyright proposals of many artist guilds and unions.
And here's where a subject that's always a little confusing got more confusing to a lot of people -- including -- and maybe especially -- me.
The opposition parties in the Commons Committee studying Copyright law got behind the levy idea. The Federal government opposed it and began referring to it as the "iPod Tax" because they felt it would have a negative impact on a number of levels.
It would make smartphones, hard drives and iPods more expensive and even add an additional charge to the music system in your car. Most Flash drives, for example, would more than double in price.
It would penalize corporate purchasers and individuals who had no intention of using their phone or computer for consuming entertainment media.
And it would piss off consumers who had already paid for their movies and music and now were being told they had to pay even more for the gadgets they needed to access it.
But those concerns were outvoted in Committee because the Opposition parties felt that despite its faults, a levy system would assist individual artists and entrepreneurs.
And although nobody had put any specific numbers in place for what such a Levy/Tax would cost consumers, the ones bandied about during Committee debate had been on a sliding scale based on the storage capacity of the devices. A scale that put the cost of the most common iPod/Smartphone capacity of 30Gb at $75.
Now everybody keep in mind that there's no legislation for these numbers or even a final Levy/Tax proposal for anybody to vote on. It was just an idea people were kicking around.
On Tuesday, Heritage Minister James Moore and Industry Minister Tony Clement held a Press Conference to announce that the pending Copyright legislation would not include an "iPod Tax". Like every touring musician trying to buy gas for the band's bus they even had T-shirts available.
A line was drawn in the sand and the issue has suddenly gone from being about Copyright to being about convincing consumers the government is trying to save them money.
And maybe they are.
And maybe that's at my expense and I should be really pissed off.
Except I don't know for sure.
As a guy who works both sides of the street, buying movies and making them, I've tried really hard to weigh how new Copyright protections might benefit me as well as cost me money. And I honestly still don't know where I stand.
From the beginning of this discussion, I've been asking fellow artists and my Guilds for some idea of what individual artists have earned from similar levies and how the additional costs affected consumer habits and nobody seems able to enlighten me.
As I said, that $184 Million the music industry has earned sounds fabulous. But nobody appears able to tell me how much individual artists have earned.
I know a ton of musicians who all claim they've never seen a penny of that money. Maybe the cash only goes to the songwriter or that nebulous "rights holder" -- and does that mean a series creator might see some cash but the guys sweating it out in the writers' room won't?
I also can't seem to find any figures that say Bryan Adams got this much and David Foster pocketed that much and even former Toronto Maple Leafs Goalie Johnnie Bower took home a few bucks for "Honky The Christmas Goose". Those numbers just don't appear to be out there.
Or maybe Google just doesn't want me to know.
So I can't estimate what a levy on digital media devices might earn me for a specific piece of work. And therefore, I don't know if it's worth fighting for or not.
If I write the next "Trailer Park Boys" movie and it does as well as the last two, what's my take home from this new revenue stream?
Hard as I tried yesterday, nobody was able to tell me. So I did some math on my own -- always a dangerous activity.
My personal iPod touch has 64 Gb of memory. If I bought it under the suggested Levy I'd be paying $75 into this new Copyright fund for the opportunity to fill it up with Cancon.
And let's say that as a loyal citizen I only download Canadian TV shows. According to the specs, I can fit 80 hours of video on it. For the sake of argument (and because I can be really bad at math) let's say a couple of those shows are in HD, so I only cram 75 hours on it.
That means my levy for each hour is $1. Now, if you had a dollar for every smartphone and hard drive in the country, you'd be a pretty rich guy.
But I don't get all of that dollar.
Since the producers of those series own the copyright of the show and the show is what people are buying, they're going to get something too. Maybe even most of it, since any levy will have to cover every artist who contributes to the show -- the director, the actors, the composer, etc.
Traditionally, screenwriters account for about 4% of a TV show budget, so let's assume I end up with that much. Well, 4 cents from every smartphone and iPod in the country isn't a bad deal either.
If that's my end, I'm packing in the laptop and picking up Yacht brochures in the morning.
Except I'd only get that much if there were only 75 hours of television available. But there's already a lot more than that with more coming all the time.
And since I can dump all 75 of those original hours and download another 75 and another 75 after that, my 4 cents is rapidly declining to maybe .0004 cents per digital device.
And I haven't even begun to calculate what has to be set aside to pay for movies people download. And music. And books (both text and audio) since The Writers Union is looking for a share for their members.
And I'm betting those damn game writers are looking to take home more than as much Red Bull as they can drink.
And if there's a levy and most Canadians (as they do now) download American movies and TV -- can't US Studios and artists make an argument for their share -- and since we don't have a levy on American films at the box office or American series on CTV or Rogers or Global/Shaw/Whatever -- wouldn't they have a pretty good case for a chunk of that change?
So how much do I end up with for my screenwriter's copyright in "Trailer Park Boys III: Origins" or "The Listener"?
The Heritage Minister insists nobody's given him a formula and all the Artist Guilds have spat back, "Oh, yes we have you gun-lovin' artist-hating sonsa…" and apparently there are tons of government minions who've been in all the meetings who have all the paperwork.
So why can't anybody show it to me?
I'm the guy most affected by all this. Okay, me and the kid who wants to watch "Todd and the Book of Pure Evil" in Chemistry class. But he already knows he might be on the hook for 75 big ones.
How much of that am I going to see?
Or would I be smarter just negotiating a little more up front?
Some great comments coming in on this post. Thought I'd post my response to one of them up front for those who don't want to sift through the reactions and maybe to prevent you from going off on similar tangents…
"Well, first of all, the Google line was a joke. I've been trying to get hard numbers from several sources, for months.
Everybody seems to have the bulk totals but nothing that identifies what it means to individual artists. For all I know that's a privacy issue. But even something in the ballpark would have helped.
So while I'm happy the delightful Sophie makes good money from the levy -- how much? And for how large a body of work?
Nobody's expecting to retire on these payments. But I'm starting to feel like writers would do better standing on the sidewalk with a cup of half used HB pencils.
I'm still looking for some information on which to base a decision and assert my rights.
Not sure how asking that question after two years of cross country input is wildly shooting from the hip -- does somebody asking questions somebody else wishes they wouldn't maybe just sound as menacing as gunfire?
And maybe it's all a pointless debate -- given as Deb Nathan says, we've already been paid an advance against future earnings does that mean producers who own the show copyright will get paid and then they'll do the calculations -- because you know where we end up on that tally sheet.
All I'm asking for is what the formula we're proposing might mean to me. If the Government has been given one as all the Guilds claim it has -- why can't I see it?
Yeah, yesterday's Press conference was complete party politics Bullshit. But if you'd done your own research you'd know all the figures and pejorative terms Big Jim and Little Tony used came from the very committee meetings our own reps attended.
I believe in the ongoing worth of a writer's work as much as you do and I think we both know the net is where ALL of our future earnings will be coming from.
But if I don't have hard facts to combat the oafs running Heritage and Industry and the lawyers for CRIA and the rest of corporate America, then I got no bullets in my gun.
Show me the money. I am your Union brother, am I not?"