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Canada's copyright agency has OK'd the downloading of copyrighted music from Peer to Peer networks - for now, at least - slapping a small tax onto MP3 music players. The Copyright Board of Canada declined to extend existing levies on blank audio and CD recordable media to DVD recordables, or to removable memory, such as Compact Flash or MMC cards.

While uploading and distributing copyrighted music remains illegal, Canada's simple solution provides copyright holders with some compensation through existing royalty distribution channels.

Three years ago Canada's copyright board imposed a levies on blank media. The cost is 21 cents per blank CD-R data or CD-RW disk, or 77 cents per blank CD-R Audio disc. The new fees for fixed media players are $2 for each device under 1 GB, $15 for devices 1-10 Gbs, and $25 for devices over 10 Gbs.

Two thirds of these levies are shared between agencies representing songwriters (SOCAN, the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada), mechanical copyright holders (SODRAC, the Society for Reproduction Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers in Canada), and performers (SOGEDAM). The rest is divided amongst other collection agencies. There are wide exemptions for education and law enforcement.

The one-off fee for music players is small: typically less than what manufacturers budget for exchange rate fluctuations. However the move was opposed by an alliance of big box retailers and beige box PC manufacturers including HP, Dell and Apple. Those three, co-incidentally, have either launched or plan to launch online music stores selling locked music on royalty terms set by the Recording Industry Association of America, the RIAA. In the neighboring the RIAA has been much more successful in passing draconian legislation and criminalizes fair use. While no scheme is likely to please everyone, Canada's example shows that alternatives do exist, and are gathering pace.

Ironically, we've seen vociferous lobbying recently from those with a curiously lop-sided view of 'freedom', seeking to promote technologies that inhibit fair use, eager extend the freedom of large manufacturers to make er, zero profits from their online stores.

A range of other alternative revenue models are discussed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, here. ®

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