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Canadian government considers tax on writeable media!
(Wednesday, March 13, 2002 - 05:13 EST)

Regardless of intended use, music industry would get money on any purchase of flash memory, micro hard-drive or writeable CD or DVD disc...

In what has to be the most bizarre example of placing the cart before the horse that we've ever seen, the Canadian Government's Copyright Board is apparently preparing to place a tariff on all media which it feels can be used as "blank audio recording media" from January 1st 2003. A PDF document on the Copyright Board's website outlines the proposed tariff filed by the Canadian Private Copying Collective, and solicits written objections to arrive by May 8th 2002 at the latest. After reading the document, we'd guess most Canadian digital camera users will feel strongly compelled to send their objections in - but will equally see that there's little point...

To cut a very long story short, the document essentially states that a tariff would be placed on all recordable media that the CPCC feels could potentially be used to store audio - whether analog or digital. The tariff would be paid by manufacturers or importers of the media when "sold or otherwise disposed of in Canada" - and the collected funds would then be shared amongst "those who own the rights to sound recordings of musical works" (in other words, the Canadian music industry).

So what would the tariff be? That depends on the media - and we're mentioning here only media that would be used in digital cameras or by digicam owners to archive their photos; numerous other media types are listed in the document (all prices in Canadian currency):
  • 59¢ per writeable Compact Disc of greater than 100MB capacity (CD-R, CD-RW, etc.)
  • 0.8¢/MB for removeable electronic memory cards, flash cards or removeable micro-hard drives (that would include SmartMedia, CompactFlash, Secure Digital, MultiMediaCard, Memory Stick, Microdrives and pretty much any other removeable flash or hard-disk based memory.)
  • $2.27 per writeable DVD disc (DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+RW, DVD-RAM, etc.)
It doesn't end there, either - digital cameras which also function as MP3 players and feature built-in internal memory would be taxed 2.1¢/MB of internal memory they included.

What if you're not going to use one of these products to store audio data? Well, you're apparently out of luck - "the levy is payable on all media that qualify, without regard to end use". It doesn't make a jot of difference if you'll only be storing photos on your media, you have to pay a tariff to the music industry regardless.

Concerned that these media could be used to duplicate your non-musical material, and want a slice of the funds for yourself? Sorry, but this is a music industry exclusive: "owners of rights in other works (computer programs, movies, literary works) are not [entitled to share in the remuneration]". Apparently there's something about the music industry that makes it inherently deserving of a privelege no other industry will be allowed. What, we couldn't begin to guess (they have the most vocal lobbyists, perhaps?)

Helpfully, the Copyright Board notes in its document that even if you object to this proposal "the Copyright Act sets out a number of limits on what the Board may or may not do. No purpose is served by objecting to the proposed statement based on grounds about which the Board can do nothing". The document then continues to note that the Board cannot reject the tariff as a whole (that, indeed, it must set a tariff and levy), nor can it set rules for exempting the tariff or claiming refunds based on intended use of the taxable media. In other words, the two things almost every digicam user will request are going to be completely ignored.

Readers will doubtless see the complete lack of logic in this tariff. Not only will countless people be taxed for something they have no intention of using their media for, but countless other entities who have every bit as much right to believe the media might be used to copy their works are neatly excluded from participating. In the meantime, the music industry will stand to make a significant amount of money from a tax that makes no more sense than putting a tariff on batteries because they might just be used in a device that can copy music. Who cares if those batteries will actually be used by a student to power a calculator at school?

Our legally untrained eyes do see one potential loophole in the document, though. "Blank audio recording medium" is defined as "a recording medium ... onto which a sound recording may be reproduced ... on which no sounds have ever been fixed". Note to media manufacturers: start putting a tiny audio file on all media you produce, please! :)

If the CPCC was really interested in taxing the people who're copying the music industry's songs, they'd be taxing MP3 players and other devices intended for playing duplicated music on the media outlined above. By taxing media that can (and in large part is) used for other purposes they're showing either a frightening lack of understanding or a callous disregard for the Canadian public - who at the end of the day will foot the bill for the tax. Disappointing news at best, downright disturbing if you think about it for long!

Read all of the above, and still want to protest the tariff? See page 3 of the PDF file for contact details including email, telephone, fax and snail mail addresses...

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