Conservatives launch protest against proposed iPod levy
OTTAWA Conservatives are Canada's new iPod freedom fighters. Cabinet ministers and MPs are putting up a vigorous defence against the NDP's move to have a levy applied to all new MP3 players, hard drives and laptops.
The money would theoretically go into a fund for Canadian music artists the same way as the current 29-cent levy on blank CDs and cassettes.
The proposal is New Democrat MP Charlie Angus' private member's bill. It's unclear whether such a tax measure would go far because legislation that involves financial changes must be supported by the government.
So far, it has the full support of only the Bloc Quebecois, not enough to pass the House of Commons. The Liberals, and at least one Conservative, agreed to continue discussion of the issue in committee.
But that hasn't stopped the Tories from mounting a full-on assault against the idea.
"This is a very serious hit to consumers that could impact them, and if the NDP are as committed to raising taxes this week as they always have been, then this is a real threat," Heritage Minister James Moore said Wednesday.
Canadians currently pay an extra levy on each blank CD and cassette they buy, as a way of remunerating songwriters and producers for all those mixes. It was a way of solving the problem of having music lovers break the law every time they made a copy of a song.
Since 2000, $180 million has been distributed through the system.
As Canadians download more music and transfer it to digital media, artists have clamoured for an updating of the Canadian system and Copyright Act so that they will continued to be paid when their tunes are shared.
David Basskin, spokesman for the Canadian Private Copying Collective, says he's disappointed the Tories aren't seeing this as an issue of the property rights of businesspeople.
"It's easy to say it would be better if people got it for free, but wouldn't that be true of gasoline, groceries, taxes?" said Basskin, also a member of the collective's board.
"Nobody else is told they have to do it for free."
Angus acknowledged earlier this week that his bill might not go far, but said he was hoping to open the debate. The Conservative government has promised it will reintroduce long awaited changes to the Copyright Act, but they have yet to emerge.
Moore says the government has injected much money into supporting artists since it came to power, including more for the Canadian Council for the Arts and the Canada Music Fund.
A new levy is just not on, he said.
"It's not in the interest of the music industry to make it more expensive to buy the devices on which they're listening to Canadian content," he said. "It doesn't serve the Canadian cultural community."
Basskin says investing in culture is wonderful, but it's a separate issue from paying people for their work.
"They invest their lives and livelihoods in creating music ... and they're entitled to be compensated like everyone else." By Jennifer Ditchburn