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Canadian Composers Sing Blues Over Cable-C’ Right $

They’re playing our song, but they’re not paying for it. So says the Canadian music composers rights organization about Canada’s cable operators. The two sides are embroiled in a legal battle over copyright payment fees for blanket use of music on all non-broadcast services.

According to the Society of Composers, Authors & Music Publishers (SOCAN), copyright owners are being denied about $C17 million ($14.8 million) in annual royalty payments.

In January, the federal court decided that SOCAN was entitled to the 20 &cents; per subscriber per month that it was seeking. But the Canadian Cable Television Assn. is appealing on the basis that the Copyright Act as it is written doesn’t make cable liable for those payments.

SOCAN says the cable systems are trying to use a legal loophole in the Copyright Act to get out of making royalty payments. Although cable systems currently are paying about $C51 million ($44.3 million) annually for retransmission of distant signals, that does not include music copyright payments for transmission of music on non-broadcast services. MuchMusic, First Choice pay television, youth network YTV and the Nashville Network are among these services.

Paul Spurgeon, SOC AN’s legal counsel, says the amount they are seeking works out to less than 1&cents; per day per subscriber. “That’s not a lot of money for the right to communicate all that music,” he says.

But Jay Thomson, CCTA director of government relations, says $C17 million ($14.8 million) is a lot of money. “We’re saying the tariff [of 20 &cents; per monthly subscriber] in the first place is not valid.”

The appeal court date has not been set. If SOCAN wins the appeal, the Copyright Board would then hold hearings to determine the appropriate rate of tariff. In any case, the organization is asking the federal government for an immediate amendment to the Copyright Act to clarify the discrepancy.

Meanwhile, the CCTA is also appealing the $C51 million ($44.3 million) annual retransmission payments. That court case is set to begin May 13.

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