This past Tuesday, Beats Music, the new music streaming service and the brainchild of rapper Dr. Dre and producer Jimmy Iovine, launched their app with huge fanfare.
You probably know Beats from the now-ubiquitous line of headphones they produce, the ones with the big red "B" on them (on the headphones: they’re good but overpriced; I’ve done extensive testing). The music service will compete directly with similar popular services like Rdio, Songza, Pandora and Spotify. Unfortunately for Canadians, not unlike our inability to access Pandora, getting our hands (and ears) on the well-reviewed playlists and innovative user interface of Beats Music is not happening anytime soon.
Isn’t the Internet supposed to do away with physical borders? Why can’t we have the content that Americans have, especially one that’s delivered entirely over the Internet? Isn’t that like bringing a kid to a candy store with a pocketful of cash, then telling him that all those awesome candies on that shelf over there—which he can clearly see through the glass jar—are not for sale?
Not having access to American content is nothing new: in the days before the Internet when popular US cable channels like MTV, VH1 and HBO became popular, Canadians needed an American satellite dish (and/or a hacked card) to watch. Here we are 30 years later, the Internet 20 years old, and nothing has changed. “We have to protect Canadian content and make it almost impossible for American stuff to cross the border” is apparently still the mantra from Canadian copyright lawmakers.
There are many baffling reasons why Canadians don’t have permission to purchase these services, but I’ll try to break it down a bit. Companies like Beats, Pandora or Hulu aren’t licensed as Canadian broadcasting distributors. Even if they had enough Canadian ownership to meet the licensing requirements, they still would not own the distribution rights to the programming. The content owners (think TV network or record label) sell programming rights based on national boundaries, and access to that content is based on border-sensitive copyright. Therefore, it’s a mess.
Plus, with regards to the music industry, there’s Music Canada to contend with.
Get this: just last week, Music Canada (formerly the Canadian Recording Industry Association) appeared before the Ontario Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs where they tried to put the blame on Google as to what’s ailing the Canadian music industry:
The federal government has done a lot to help us in our battle against illegal sources, but they could certainly do more. One of the biggest problems we have is that consumers cannot find legal services on Google. Type in: "Carly Rae Jepsen"; pick your song; press “search.” You would have to look to page seven of the results to find iTunes. Before you get there, you have six and a half pages littered with illegal sites which are constantly being taken down and constantly being put back. With government support, maybe we can urge intermediaries to actually do something to help consumers find legitimate sources, because I think they’d like to.
So now they’re pointing the finger at Google? Isn’t this like an amateur magician trying slight-of-hand, where we can clearly see the red silk scarf up their sleeve? Notice how they want Canadians to have access to legitimate music sources, yet their complicated and expensive copyright laws are too prohibitive for the services to enter Canada legally.
I have several musician friends who tell me the music business is the toughest it’s ever been in order to make a buck. It’s probably not hard to sympathize as to where Music Canada is coming from. Regardless, it is what it is; and because of iTunes initially and now streaming music services, the industry must adapt with the times.
Canadians are a pretty tech-savvy bunch: if we want access to something bad enough, it isn’t going to take long for us to find a way to obtain the music anyway. Downloading a song or album illegally is so easy... and as hard as it tries, the music industry will never find a way in which to stop torrent or file sharing sites.
So why are those responsible for the Canadian music industry trying to prevent us from legally spending money to have access to a broader selection of streaming services? I’ve been happily (and legally) paying $10 per month to Rdio for almost two years now and have more music immediately available to me than I’ve ever had in my life (and I own thousands of vinyl and CD albums). Not a lot of that streaming money goes to musicians, but again—that’s where a good share of revenues to the music industry are headed right now.
Using time and resources in an effort to thwart entry from other companies into Canada that could essentially bring more revenue to the Canadian music industry just seems counterintuitive.