More Hits By The Supremes

The Supreme Court of Canada just handed down a definitive 9-0 decision that ISPs can not be held liable for copyright infringement or royalty payments for music downloaded by their customers.

SOCAN (the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada) were trying to force ISPs to pay tariffs for downloaded music - even arguing that current copyright laws could be extended to cover content on ANY websites Canadians can access, regardless of where the sites originate. At one point, SOCAN was insisting that ISPs should be liable for up to 10% of their gross profit as a "download tax".

The Supremes not only slapped down the specifics of this approach, they went so far as to comment that Canadian copyright law is archaic - encouraging the government to update it to better address the impact of the Internet.

(An interesting note in the CP coverage: their interpretation of the ruling goes so far as to
comment that, as ISPs have been judged mere "intermediaries" they are,
in effect, not bound by federal copyright legislation.)

This is a major win for CAIP (the Canadian Association of Internet Providers) and a triumphant outbreak of common sense at the highest level of the Canadian judiciary.

Of course, free and P2P downloading services - in Canada and elsewhere - are still rife with issues. An Ipsos-Reid report in Spring of this year commented:

"Downloading freely from peer-to-peer services is losing its luster as downloaders are frustrated by files of poor quality and mislabelled files, and they are concerned about potentially downloading viruses and having spyware monitor their online activity"

So this should be very good news for the fee-based providers too. One more fuzzy area of the law cleaned up - a good confidence boost for the Puretracks guys or anyone else offering streaming or downloadable online music in Canada.

In related news, one of Canada's most vocal anti-filesharing advocates was Liberal Heritage Minister, Hélène Chalifour Scherrer. PM Paul Martin has also been critical of online music sharing in the past, but Ms. Scherrer was known to be the prime mover, whispering in his ear. In her public comments on the issue she frequently conflated the legal, fee-based and less legal P2P markets - muddying the issues and delighting her RIAA friends in the US.

Well in Monday's federal election, Ms. Scherrer lost her seat to the Bloc Québécois.

One by one the barriers to a thriving online music market in Canada are being removed.

[UPDATE: Sorry to dampen the fun for all you celebrating h4x0r5 out there, but there’s an important point towards the end of the Globe's online coverage of this CAIP vs. SOCAN story:

"All things considered, it has not been a good year for the music industry so far," said Toronto lawyer Casey Chisick, an expert in the field. "That said, the decision definitely does not stand for the proposition that on-line music is free.

"On the contrary, copyright holders are entirely free to pursue individual remedies against anyone who actually transmits music on-line -- website operators and even peer-to-peer uploaders," Mr. Chisick said.

In other words - with the associated fear of viruses, spyware, and the rotten quality of a lot of the stuff out there - free downloading is for dummies.

Heinlein's still right: TANSTAAFL