Thursday, April 29, 2004

EYES ON TECH: Fight for your right to download

The next instalment of my technology column in Metro runs later today, and -- big surprise -- it's about music filesharing.

I'd be happy to move on from the subject but there have been a number of developments since my last column that needed to be addressed -- CRIA president Brian Robertson's convoluted letter of protest (which ran in the paper's print edition under the title Music downloads harming 'dozens') among them.

Like most journalists (and people, really) I make my assessments on the information at hand. If the recording industry could show real proof -- not just hysterical, specious claims -- that filesharing has a causal link to the industry's woes, I'd report and write about that. Unfortunately for them, they appear to elide, misinterpret or misrepresent key information when presenting their arguments, which does nothing to bolster their credibility, already regarded by many as suspect given the long history of recording contracts that were highly unfavourable to musicians.

It's no wonder that I've yet to encounter a single journalist -- especially a technology journalist -- who sees much, if any, merit in the industry's claims.

The column:

Saleem Khan

Flogging a dead horse is considered to be bad form, at best. But that hasn’t stopped the Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA), which could spell big trouble for music lovers.

As most observers expected, thelobby group filed an appeal of last month’s Federal Court decision that threw out the group’s lawsuit against five of the country’s largest Internet service providers, seeking the identities of some 29 individuals CRIA claimed were guilty of "illegally" distributing music files over the Internet.

Judge Konrad von Finckenstein said CRIA had failed to show any illegal distribution occurred, and likened filesharing to putting a photocopier in a library.

In a letter to Metro last month, CRIA president Brian Robertson took exception to my last column (Download your music, March 25), which ran days before Judge von Finckenstein handed down his ruling.

Robertson asserted that downloads had cost the Canadian recording industry hundreds of millions of dollars in lost sales, "dozens of lost career opportunities," and the 29 people whose names CRIA had sought were "individuals who are illegally uploading, potentially, thousands of copyrighted songs to millions of strangers."

Robertson’s assertions flew in the face of a statistical study by Harvard University and the University of North Carolina that found music downloads effectively have a net zero effect on music sales -- which CRIA dismissed out of hand.

Those vague, unsupported claims, sloppy logic and head-in-the-sand thinking didn’t stop federal heritage minister Hélène Scherrer, who, at the urging of the recording industry, promised to crack down on filesharers.

"We are going to make sure that downloading stays illegal. We will make it a priority so it is done as quickly as possible," she said.

If you’d like to politely tell the minister why you think it would be wrong to outlaw filesharing, you can write to her (no postage needed) at:

Hon. Hélène Scherrer, MP
Jules Léger Bldg
15 Eddy St., 12th Floor
Gatineau, QC K1A 0M5

You can also e-mail her through the Contact Us link at the ministry’s website at

Saleem Khan is Metro’s technology editor.

For more information:
Canadian Filesharing Legal Information Network

Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA)

Federal Court ruling denying CRIA’s motion

The Effect of Filesharing On Record Sales (study)

Heritage Canada

Hon. Hélène Scherrer's contact page at Heritage Canada

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