We Can Legally Copy CDs in Canada, Eh?

December 9, 2008

Canada has a thing called the Private Copying Tariff. It’s basically a tax, a hidden fee we Canadians pay when we purchase blank CDs, MiniDiscs and cassette tapes. It’s 21 cents per disc now (24 cents for tapes) and is about to go up to 29 per cent. The Copyright Board of Canada said the levy generates about $30 million annually, funds which go to rights holders.

The tariff was brought in to offset losses to musicians and record labels caused by homemade record copying. You might remember how this was done: your friend bought the new Thompson Twins LP, or the new Howard Jones cassette, and brought it over to your house because you had a turntable with dual cassette deck. One $1.99 Maxell 90-minute tape later, you had your own copy of the new release. This is how we pirated music in the analog age, kids.

The tariff technically makes music copying legal, but with a caveat: it’s legal for personal use. This means I can go buy a CD tomorrow (let’s say it’s the new Britney Spears, because you just never know). I can load it into my computer and make a legal copy in iTunes to transfer to my iPod. I can then make another copy onto a blank CD to keep in the minivan, so I don’t risk damaging the original. And, just for kicks, I can copy it to another CD and put it out by the boom box in the garage, so I can listen to Britney while I’m using power tools and fixing shit while grunting in a manly fashion.

I can’t make a copy for you. That isn’t how the tariff works.

There are those who argue that I am wrong, that the tariff has created a legally grey area, and that it has meant online file-sharing of music (and, by extension, movies and software) is technically legal in Canada. This has been argued for years now, with no clear answer. I tend to lean toward the “no, it’s still illegal” side, because it so fucking is.

There’s really no justification for P2P. It’s stealing someone’s work, pure and simply. I’m guilty of it, and you probably are, too. I loved Napster when it first came out. But I soon had a big moral and ethical breakthrough; I’m a creator, and I know a lot of creators, and the idea of someone just helping themselves to our work really pissed me off.

This is why I’m going to start charging $1.99 a click when you visit Weather Station 1.

In related news, I found a wicked deal on blank CDs a couple of days ago at the dollar store. I archive tons of photos and stuff on CD, and am always looking for bargains. On the weekend, I found two for a dollar, so I bought $20 worth. The only snag? They have Hannah Montana’s picture on them, for some reason.

I changed my mind about charging you, by the way. For now.



  1. That’s quite a good idea. I know that here in the UK you’re legally allowed to record things off the TV but there’s a little hidden thing that says you can only keep it a month before getting into legal difficulties… not that the BBC really cares if you keep that one episode of ‘The Blue Planet’ forever and ever… *had a cupboard full of films taped off the telly*

  2. I can say definitively that without P2P, I wouldn’t have discovered dozens of bands that I love now. Did they make anything when I “stole” their music? Of course not. Did they make anything when I bought a ticket to their rock show? You bet.
    Net gain for them.

  3. Britney Spears is awesome.


    Only some places charge this totally crap tariff. If you buy from online wholesalers, for instance, there’s an understanding you might actually be using the discs for things other than pirating music. Which is where I buy my CD-Rs. Since I use them exclusively for music I create myself, I’m glad I’m not paying performing rights agencies this tariff.

  4. Back in the day…the 70’s & 80’s, I must have bought a new LP, 12″ or CD every other day…no wonder I’m broke! (poor INVESTMENT Strategy), so I have NO qualms about P2P downloading…I’ve spent MORE than the average Joe on MEDIA, and besides, between the costs of Computers, Blank Media, Hard Drives, CD/DVD Writers, not to mention my ISP…I’m still spending alot!!!

  5. This is where I’d normally go into my rant about how P2P killed my inner child. The rant about how it not only affects the producers of music, but more importantly, the retailers of music. That is friends who owned independant record stores lost their businesses (or had to take out second mortgages to keep the stores open). And as a result, the towns there were located in lost cultural hubs. These store did a lot more than sell records. They put on shows, they put out bands’ music, they brought bands into towns they wouldn’t normally tour… Even if you never went into store X, chances are it improved your quality of life in some way culturally. But that world is gone now in a lot of places. So there’s no point to rant about “the old days being better.” Things change.

  6. “Private copying” also allows for the copying of borrowed CDs (or any sound recording); it’s entirely legal to borrow discs from the library, copy them, return the originals, and keep the copies. You could even skip the “borrowing” step—bring your laptop and copy them right there if you wish. As long as the person keeping the copy is the one who hits the “burn” (“copy” or whatever) button then the copy is legal.

    By extension—and where your article fails—P2P uploading and downloading are both legal in Canada. Now, I admit that the rulings could have been overturned and I missed them (I don’t DL or UL music so I don’t pay close attention) but the Canadian Copyright Board ruled in 2004 that downloading is allowed. Shortly after (if memory serves) there was a court ruling that uploading was also legal.

    It should be noted that Canadian private copying law applies to only sound recordings; anyone copying DVDs because they pay a levy on the media is acting illegally.

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