Big Tax Vs. Big Brother . . . 1582

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Big Tax Rather Than Big Brother

Canada is taking a different approach to music copying.

Back in 1997, Canada decided to take a different approach to handling music copying. They rewrote their copyright laws to provide a fair use exception for some private copying in return for a tax on the copying media.

(If you go to the link and look starting at section 79, you’ll see 1997, c.24, s. 50 after each of the sections. That means it’s all part of the same law.)

I guess they thought you paying a Big Tax was better than them playing Big Brother, and there’s much to be said for that approach.

Well, the Canadians have gotten around to figuring out how much they should levy cassettes, CD-R and DVDs, and some people are squealing like stuck pigs.

Well, Which Do You Prefer?

I have a very simple rule when I read such complaints. If this is so bad, do you have anything better? If you don’t, I can’t take you seriously, and neither can any other reasonably rational being.

You have endemic copyright violations going on. Since it’s obvious and proven a large proportion of people will not obey copyright law voluntarily, you have basically two ways to solve it.

You either take the Big Brother approach and force people to pay directly by making copying difficult and/or dangerous through copy protection, or you take the Big Tax approach and force people to pay indirectly through taxes like Canada plans to do.

Note the word common to both approaches: force. If too many people won’t obey the law voluntarily, and the government believes the law is needed and needs to be enforced, then people will be forced to obey.

Choose A or B. There’s no other choice. Which do you prefer?

Many Benefits, One Big Flaw

The more I look at this, the more I prefer the Canadian approach. The current American suggestion (SSSCA) would inevitably get the computer industry into a duel with hackers, and get the police into one with teenage music lovers.

In contrast, the Canadian approach essentially decriminalizes copying (with this in place, I can hardly see the Mounties mounting any great assault on any but the most blatant copying). It keeps the government away from your computer, raises at least some money efficiently for the artists and recording companies while telling them not to expect an arm and a leg for their products in Canada, and raises the cost to freeloaders.

In principle, it’s a good compromise which yields rough justice.

Of course it isn’t perfect, no tax is. If you had to have a perfect tax, there would be no taxes at all.

The objections I see, though, are about as honest and believable as those protecting the rights of tobacco smokers to use rolling paper a generation ago.

When I see allegedly grown men essentially say ludicrous nonsense like “We can’t pay music people, it’s unfair to all the other people we’re stealing from” and expect to be taken seriously, well, the boy who murdered his parents and asked for the court’s mercy because he was an orphan has to step aside when it comes to chutzpah.

The true big losers for this would be Canadian software manufacturers/duplicators. Now they have a right to complain. They’d either have to eat the sixty cents per blank CD or (more likely) shift their duplicating outside Canada (only blanks get taxed). I can see them complain, and I can see ways Canada could exempt them.

I suppose those who never, ever put music on a CD-R would pay a bit more, but really, how many do such people use? If you’re using tons of CD-Rs, just what are you doing with them?

That article points out that this tax is just for the music industry, and someday, the movie people will want their tax, etc. That’s probably right. So? Remember, Big Tax or Big Brother. Frankly, Canada is hardly going to fall behind technologically because it costs their citizens more to take MP3s or movies. The CD-RW or DVD-RW industries are hardly strategic.

The big flaw with the Canadian Big Tax is that troublesome place due south of Canada called the United States of America. When Big Tax lives next door to No Tax, a financial reaction occurs just as dependably as any chemical reaction. It’s called smuggling. Yesterday it was cigarettes, tomorrow, it will be CD-Rs.

The percentage difference between the price of a U.S. retail CD-R and a Canadian CD-R will be a lot bigger than the difference in cigarette taxes that caused a ton of cigarette smuggling, so I’d suspect the problem will be bigger, too.

Maybe the U.S. should look to the Great White North for an answer rather than to Senator Hollings. This is a situation where the whole would be greater than the sum of its parts.

I’m going to talk more about SSSCA and intellectual property over the weekend, but (in what will probably be my most futile gesture ever), if you live in Canada, you can write local representative and tell them that the Canadian Big Tax is better than the American Big Brother approach. Comments will be accepted until May 8th, 2002. Instructions for doing this can be found here.

For some strange reason, I suspect a few of you might wish to express a contrary opinion. If you honestly think the American approach is better, fine, say that.

But if you don’t like policeware, and you don’t like taxes, then what do you like?

If you have no answer, you’re defaulting to “Go away and leave me alone to continue to steal all I want for free.” For a change of pace, why don’t you try being honest for a change, and save your representative’s staff the effort of translating whatever figleaf you come up with into that?

You’re not fooling anybody else.

Email Ed

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