Drew McLachlan
Associate Editor
The Navigator

The headline reads “Canadian Music Industry Calls For Internet Regulation, Website Blocking.” The top comment of the thread responds with “Canadians call for Canadian Music Industry to fuck off.” 

The “techno-libertarian” viewpoint isn’t hard to come by online, on Reddit Canada in this case. Any reason, whether it be economic, legal, or political, will never be reason enough to censor the internet—according to this ideology.

The discussion began with a blog post by The Trichordist, an anti-piracy blog “for those interested in contributing to the advancement of a Sustainable and Ethical Internet for the protection of Artists’ Rights in the Digital Age.” The article cites several news articles from Europe, including an order by French courts that requires Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo to block 16 specific video streaming sites from search results; a crackdown by London police on companies advertising on pirate websites; and Irish courts granting internet service providers (ISP) the right to block access to the file-sharing website Kickass Torrents, on behalf of Sony, Warner, and Universal. The Irish Independent article describes the website as “devastating the ability of a generation of creative people to make a living from their talents.” The Trichordist brings up the argument that regulation of the internet will not “break” it.

Graham Henderson, president of Music Canada, formerly known as the Canadian Recording Industry Association, applied the argument to his own blog on this side of the Atlantic. Henderson describes those not in favour of such regulation as “evangelical” and harbouring “techno-utopian fantasies.” He goes on to describe the effects that an unregulated internet, and with it file-sharing/torrent websites, has had on the Canadian music industry:

“We are in the midst of a massive, possibly unprecedented shift of wealth from the creative class to tiny, parasitical exploitative class…We now live in a world where very few musicians have become fabulously wealthy, leaving almost everyone else with very little on the table. Was not digital technology supposed to have done EXACTLY the opposite? Today’s aspiring musician may have little choice but to embrace product associations and shill for advertisers. It is becoming the new normal.”

Henderson’s rather arrogant take on the topic has inspired an equally arrogant response. Comments on the /r/Canada thread include “[Music Canada] is single-handedly destroying music in Canada. And that’s one of two things that could cause open rebellion in Canada,” “No one in the music industry wants this except for old One Percenters living off fat royalty cheques and have no concept of the modern world,” and “I’ve come to the point where it’s become a point of honor [sic] to not feed these idiots.”

A more level-headed response came from Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa who has written extensively on Canadian copyright law in the digital age. Geist cites articles from Billboard and CTV, stating that digital music sales in Canada actually increased last year (although sales declined in the US), and that the Ontario government is “handing out tens of millions of tax dollars to the industry.” Geist also criticized Music Canada’s claim that Google and other search engines are making it difficult for listeners to find legitimate sources for music, using Carly Rae Jepsen as an example. Geist put the claim to the test, and found that the top search results were all licensed streaming versions of Jepsen’s songs, including iTunes, YouTube, and Jepsen’s personal website. Try it out for yourself, and you’ll likely have similar results.

I think most people would agree that a profitable music industry is good for Canadian musicians, so the question seems to be how to make the music industry profitable. Currently, it seems that both industry heads and many listeners are unwilling to compromise. While the latter blames the labels and Music Canada for not evolving their business practices to fit the digital age, the former blames consumers for stealing music online (though some prefer the term “sharing”). Personally, I don’t see either solution as viable. Many Canadian artists have their discography available on services like iTunes for relatively low prices, yet piracy is still rampant. Regulating internet searches would only alienate many potential consumers who would inevitably find a way around the regulation.

There are alternatives like Bandcamp, which allows bands to sell their own music online and set their own prices, though the website takes a royalty fee. Options like these are great for independent bandsm, though achieving critical mass, let alone competing with US or UK bands, doesn’t seem plausible.

What puzzles me is the animosity between music fans and the music industry. Somewhere along the line, the traditional roles broke down. Artists would create music, the industry would help them navigate the business and get them publicity, and fans would support by buying albums and going to concerts. There are tons of great musicians in Canada, and with the recent media coverage, it seems like they’re the only ones still filling their roles.

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