Technology
An artist's rendering of what the Swedish flag might look like if file sharing is decriminalized.

Svedeesh Puretes! Bork Bork Bork!

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While the debate over copyright law rages on in Canada, elsewhere steps were taken in the right direction after seven Swedish members of parliament put forward a proposal to decriminalize file sharing altogether. In an opinion piece published in Swedish daily newspaper Expressen, the seven MPs defended their position.

The article reported that last fall, the Swedish government-appointed copyright analyst had proposed that the best solution to the piracy issue was an outright ban of Internet access to violators of anti-piracy laws. This would mean Internet Service Providers would be tasked with tracking and reporting these violations. ISPs that failed to report violators would be fined. When the proposal was sent out, the response was overwhelmingly unfavourable. Such legislation, they wrote, would be nearly impossible to enforce. The content of the information sent back and forth between users of the service is not the ISP's responsibility, and it would be foolish to place a government matter in the hands of the private sector.

Furthermore, European Union and Swedish directives clearly state that ISPs are only responsible to facilitate access to the Internet, the article said. Karl Sigfrid and the six other MPs concluded that it is not just the best solution, but the only solution to decriminalize file sharing across the board. The seven MPs representing the Swedish Moderate Party supporting the proposal have since grown in number to 13.

Meanwhile, on the home front, Industry Minister Jim Prentice pushed for strict enforcement of copyright law to bring Canada in line with treaty commitments last month. However, due to heavy pressure from protesters in Calgary and on Facebook, the proposal was quickly tabled.

Many of the protesters believe the World Intellectual Property Organization treaties Prentice had cited as the rationale for the imminent bill are outdated because they were drafted during the early stages of the Internet's growth as a popular medium and therefore laws based on the WIPO treaties can't be passed with any degree of fairness.

It is questionable how copyright legislation that appeases lobby groups south of the border is good enough for Canadians and causes concern that Prentice is in bed with the U.S. recording industry.

Major proponents of the strict copyright legislation are chiefly American lobby groups whose members are in principal the only ones who stand to lose out on profits as a result of piracy.

This brings me to question the relevance of an industry that now appears to exist almost entirely to propagate its own profits without adding any sort of benefit to anyone but its investors. Granted, copyright law protects intellectual property, but if it is used to go beyond protection, and merely as a means of increasing profits of a few large corporations, then the usefulness of copyright laws seem to shift in favour of a few greedy businesses who manage the distribution of intellectual property instead of its rightful owners.

Perhaps the debate in favour of the laws would be more convincing if-in the case of the recording industry-artists who are supposedly being protected by such laws actually had something to gain.

Unless music is purchased directly from the artist, the majority of the money goes to the record labels. While the 10 cents an album might eventually add up to a significant amount of money, the amount of exposure artists get from the free exchange of their songs on the Internet can only have a positive effect on concert ticket and merchandise sales.

If the recording industry wants to continue to be relevant and make money, they need to regroup and come up with another plan, because fighting a losing battle isn't going to work. I understand that labels play an important role in the promotion, distribution and bankrolling recording costs, but making money on CD sales isn't the answer.

If piracy has any hope to be extinguished, labels might consider charging subscription fees for access to their libraries. For something like a one-time fee, subscribers could download anything recorded by that label. For all the trouble it can be to find a decent torrent, some might not want to continue illegally downloading music if there is a cheap and easy alternative to piracy. Still, this amounts to putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound with hopes that everything will be okay.

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