Copyright: Now That The Shoe Is On The Other Foot, Record Companies Get Sued for Infringement

by Irma Arkus

One of the most remarkable lawsuits to surface while discussing copyright legislation in Canada is the most recent one discussed by Michael Geist. It involves artists – yes, those very same huddled masses you often hear of during anti-piracy ads – suing large recording companies: Warner Music Canada, Sony BMG Music Canada, EMI Music Canada, and Universal Music Canada for some $60b worth of copyright infringements, estimated at $20,000 per song, a number based on what the companies are demanding from potential infringing individuals.

Why now and why at all, begs the question, and Geist gives us a rather satisfying answer:

“After years of claiming Canadian consumers disrespect copyright, the irony of having the recording industry face a massive lawsuit will not be lost on anyone, least of all the artists still waiting to be paid. Indeed, they are also seeking punitive damages, arguing “the conduct of the defendant record companies is aggravated by their strict and unremitting approach to the enforcement of their copyright interests against consumers.”

Ta da! But what is the case based on? Apparently, copyright laws have changed in Canada since the 1980s, explains Geist: “The pending list dates back to the late 1980s, when Canada changed its copyright law by replacing a compulsory licence with the need for specific authorization for each use.”

While many artists, including some little known names of McLachlan, Bruce Cockburn, Sloan, or the Watchmen, are at the forefront of the lawsuit, others are more obscure artists, demanding their fair share of the profits.

“It is difficult to understand why the industry has been so reluctant to pay its bills,” says Geist, only to elaborate further:

“the record labels have had little motivation to pay up. As the balance has grown, David Basskin, the president and CEO of the Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency Ltd., notes in his affidavit that “the record labels have devoted insufficient resources for identifying and paying the owners of musical works on the pending lists.” The CRIA members now face the prospect of far greater liability.”

At $20,000 per song, the lawsuit now reaches an estimated $60b. And unlike individuals being sued for loss of profits at $20,000 dollars per song, these corporations can afford it, and have directly profited off of said music. Copyright for all, or copyright for some. Time will tell. [TheStar]