Canada to Track File Swappers

OTTAWA – The Canadian federal government has proposed changes to the country's copyright act that would crackdown on illegal music traders as well as other unauthorized electronic file swappers while providing more protection to recording companies and artists.

The proposed amendments to the Copyright Act are slated to be introduced sometime in June of this year. They include the adoption of World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) treaties designed to criminalize free downloading and to force Internet service providers to monitor customers suspected of swapping copyrighted music, movie and other files.

Although illegal file swapping is roundly acknowledged as one of the most difficult issues of the Internet age in terms of developing government policy and new regulatory statutes, entertainment companies desperately want copyright laws extended into Cyberspace. Canadaian officials said their latest moves attempt to do so while also retaining a balance that allows for the Internet to remain as unregulated as possible.

While it is not currently illegal for Canadians to upload files to peer-to-peer networks such as Kazaa, the new legislation would prohibit the practice and will be the first modifications to Canadian copyright law since 1998, marking a long overdue updating of statutes to meet the evolving demands of the digital age. "We must strengthen the hand of our creators and cultural industries," Heritage Minister Liza Frulla said.

While industry supporters are praising the Canadian initiative, it may be coming at a time when the need for such measures has diminished.

The effectiveness of the Recording Industry Association of America's (RIAA) much-publicized lawsuits against individual file traders along with the rapid growth of authorized download services such as Apple's iTunes program and other factors have resulted in a reported decrease in illegal file trading.

According to an International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) report, "Digital sales rose exponentially, with the total number of tracks downloaded in 2004 (including album tracks) up more than tenfold on 2003, to over 200 million in the four major digital music markets (US, UK, France, Germany). The trend has continued in 2005, with digital sales in the US in the first two months more than double that of the same period in 2004."

The IFPI study credits the rapid growth of iTunes and the increasing market penetration of Apple's iPod MP3 player with the increase in legal downloads, but cautioned that while there has been a decline in illegal music files available on the Internet, there are still an estimated 870 million illegal files online – a situation that the new Canadian laws seek to help redress.