Loreena McKennitt on Bill C-10

Opinion article from The Toronto Star

As a musical artist, I was delighted to learn of Bill C-10, a proposed amendment to the Broadcast Act. It has been over 30 long years since the internet and all that came with it began to dismantle what was once a $20-billion music industry in 1999 — reducing it to a $7.5-billion industry by 2014, primarily as a result of unfettered and unregulated technology.

Although no bill will completely satisfy everyone, for those in the music industry equitable compensation cannot come soon enough. Further, the accusation that this bill would compromise people’s freedom of speech is somewhat suspect. The government has made it clear the bill will only go after tech giants and “professional” online audio or video, such as television, movies, music or podcasts. It will not apply to individual Canadians’ social media posts.

This accusation leads me to wonder if these giant tech companies lured some political opposition to magnify this misplaced fear. Or perhaps lobbyists have been busily working behind the scenes?

I began my career in 1985 by busking on the streets, and since then I’ve owned and operated my own independent record label, employing many people along the way. I’ve been fortunate enough to have sold over 15 million records worldwide. I built my business and lived most of my career in this upended era. However, if I were to start out today in this highly unregulated technological environment, I can hardly imagine how I would succeed.

In 1998, we were all promised that a Golden Age would come with the internet. What we got instead was nearly a decade of music being offered for free through such sites as Napster and BitTorrent.

In 2010, as a prominent independent artist, I was invited to appear before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage in Ottawa, which was then examining the woeful lag of our copyright law following a decade of “free” music.

In my presentation, I spoke of the ecosystem I was a part of since the inception of my career — an ecosystem that had been impacted, harmed or had simply disappeared in just over a decade. It was a robust system of businesses, services and people, many of whom knew each other. It included everything from recording studios and their administrative staff and suppliers, to engineers and graphic artists, photographers and makeup artists, mastering companies, retailers large and small, printers, publicists, travel agents and many, many others.

That ecosystem has all but been decimated.

Artists who were once paid 25 cents per song on vinyl or CD are now paid less than 10 cents per thousand plays on such streaming sites as YouTube Music and Spotify — sites many consumers currently enjoy. As a result, many artists are struggling to rise above the poverty line, much less sustain a career or a family.

So much for the Golden Age.

What was once a people business has become a purely transactional one based on anonymous connections with tech companies who don’t know me or my customers. Companies who now reap the rewards of what took the local industry decades to establish, supplanting it and then removing that revenue out of the community and then out of the country.

A rebalancing of these interests continues to be urgently needed.

Currently, online video and music streaming services delivering audio and audio-visual content over the internet are exempt from licensing and most other regulatory requirements in Canada. That means that unlike commercial radio stations, for example, digital platforms are not required to make financial contributions towards Canadian Content Development or to promote it.

Bill C-10 would change that by paving the way for streaming services to make those contributions. Google-owned YouTube, which is Canada’s number-one music streaming service, would be required to comply with the same rules as other online music services, putting all of them on a level playing field.

As long as these tech companies are allowed special concessions by our respective governments, we will continue to see a direct assault on our creative industries and our Canadian identity. Other governments around the world are making bold moves to protect their cultural industries from the perils of unfettered big tech — it is time for the Canadian government to step up.

Loreena McKennitt is an international, multi-platinum recording artist, a member of The Order of Canada and honorary colonel of the Royal Canadian Air Force. Twitter: @Loreena


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