Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Pirates are killing musicians, composers, lyricists, even popcorn vendors

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Today's online environment, where piracy is virtually unchecked, is neither fair nor reasonable. We need copyright reform to change this.

Pirate websites like IsoHunt, hosted right here in Canada, operate as a bridge to those who want to download music for free. Such websites offer content that costs nothing to them but has value to consumers, drawing traffic so they can sell online advertising.

The result is predictable and devastating. As illegal downloads of music have soared, sales have dropped. In addition to the composers, lyricists and designers who provide true creative content, there is a vast and complex ecosystem of expertise (such as studio engineers, technicians, musicians, printers, administrative staff and record store employees, etc.) that has been profoundly affected by large-scale theft and distribution of copyrighted material over the Internet.

The impact filters directly to communities large and small, like Stratford, where I live.

The creative community is working hard to turn its fortunes around by offering new ways for consumers to enjoy our work online, for instance. But making the necessary investments is impossible when piracy means the investments may never be recouped. Years of training, hard work and past investment by individuals, businesses and government can be rendered valueless because copyright laws have not been enforced.

Some people suggest that artists can make up their losses by touring all the time or hawking T-shirts. But this is viable only in a few specific instances and creates huge challenges for those with family obligations. Even now, parts of the touring industry are also starting to see their business erode.

As a result, many venues, promoters, local crews and even popcorn sellers are all struggling to stay alive.

From activists and academics we hear a lot about so-called "user rights." It is my view that this is crafted language. When folks buy a CD (or a legitimate download) they are actually buying a licence to listen. They don't own the rights to the song. Many things the public wishes to do with what they purchase can all be accomplished within the framework of permissions and limited copying for personal use. In my small business, we grant permissions for educational, charitable and other uses on a regular basis.

Another misconception is equating fame with riches. Yes, the Internet has brought recognition to some, but keep in mind that the same technology that has helped to make a few artists famous has also made many unable to earn a living, especially in the long run.

Better protection of our intellectual property rights will help to change this. We can once again have a thriving creative environment where artists are paid and the communities where they live and work reap the rewards.

That is why I welcome copyright reform legislation. And it is why I am counting on parliamentarians to ensure the measures we need are passed into law.

It is only fair.

Loreena McKennitt is a self-managed, self-produced Canadian singer/composer and the head of her own record label, Quinlan Road. She has won critical acclaim worldwide and is originally from Carman, Manitoba.

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 3, 2010 h11

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