tax

No to Internet Tax !

Apparently Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly is considering an Internet Tax to fund Canadian content, according to University of Ottawa professor Micheal Geist. And unfortunately for Canadians this tax may make internet access more expensive.

There are currently two taxes being considered ; One on content providers like Netflix and iTunes and another general sales tax on internet access. And although the previous tax may sound better than the latter, one has to wonder if all music, television programs and films purchased or rented online would be subjected to this tax, including those that are made available through the internet television providers.

SiriusXM subscribers are already subject to taxes and a “Music Royalty and Regulatory Fee of 14.2%”. But would the service also be subjected to this additional tax ? Will Apple Music subscribers need to pay for this additional tax ?

We currently pay nothing to listen to radio and to watch television offline. We also already pay taxes on compact disc, DVD and blu-ray purchases, which would not be subject to this new tax. It therefore makes no sense to charge people more taxes for the same content, especially when it involves the streaming of purchases matched or uploaded to a Cloud service.

Why does the government not fund Canadian Content by taxing Canadian broadcasters that run adverts online, when they stream foreign content ?

I’m sure Rogers and Bell would likely oppose this because they’d likely rather see the foreign services taxed instead. But the foreign services have no legal obligation to collect these taxes and the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement would disallow this requirement, if passed.

We also currently pay taxes on our internet provider subscription fees so any additional tax would simply make it unaffordable for many Canadians.

Canadians spent on average $203 per month on communication services in 2014, according to a CRTC Report released in 2015, an increase of approximately 6% from 2013 ($11.92). And according to CBC News, there was a 10% increase on wireless and internet services specifically from 2013.

To dissuade use of foreign services like Netflix and iTunes, Canadians are also already subject to data caps and the proposed tax would simply make the unlimited internet plans less affordable.

Many Canadians also still pay a “Digital Services Fee” on their cable, satellite and television subscriptions, a fee that cannot be justified now that an analog service has been fazed out.

Could the government not demand this fee be replaced with a Canadian Content Improvement Fund fee instead ? Or will this obsolete fee be buried like that of Bell’s $2.80 Touch-Tone fee, which netted Bell $80 Million in 2013 according to CBC News ?

At the moment Bell is claiming the Digital Service Fee is collected to improve their services. But isn’t that what their investors are paying for ? Why their customers are being asked to pay more per month for television ?

Prior to September 2014, cable and satellite television subscribers in Canada paid a monthly 1.5% fee to the Local Programming Improvement Fund, which netted $106 million in 2011 for television stations in markets smaller than a million. And although this fee was discontinued, these subscribers barely noticed because they were asked to pay more for their television subscriptions shortly after.

The average monthly rate for television services paid by Canadians climbed from $65.25 in 2014 to $66.08 in 2015, according to CBC News ; A difference of 83 cents per month when the average monthly rate for Canadians for the Local Programming Improvement Fund was 50 cents. And with the mandated “skinny package” changes some have seen their monthly rates rise significantly since the spring of 2016.

I believe it makes more sense to apply a Canadian Content fee of a dollar or two to the sale of television antennas, digital converter boxes, digital television receivers/set top boxes, satellite/internet radio receivers and streaming media players in Canada, although some members of the public would likely not enjoy the prospect of paying it in addition to a Provincial environmental handling fee and having both fees taxed.

Perhaps a monthly fee of 1.5% on unlimited internet packages or bundled packages over $150/month would be the path of least resistance because it would likely be negligible to the subscribers of these specific bundles or packages.

Warning – Gift Card Scam

The Canada Revenue Agency does not accept or solicit iTunes gift cards as payment.

Apparently the scammers now ask for payments using iTunes gift cards, that they resell online using legitimate services.

If you receive a call instructing you to pay back taxes in gift cards, bitcoin, prepaid credit cards or prepaid debit cards, hang up and call 1-888-495-8501 from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Eastern time, Monday to Friday.

What Netflix Tax ?

It should be noted that the CRTC ruled against a “Netflix tax” in March 2015, as stipulated in a March 12th, 2015 thestar.com article. And that all of the major parties have categorically denied wanting such a tax.

Apparently the only major proponent of this tax was the provincial government of Ontario. But they have since changed their minds according to University of Ottawa Law professor and internet columnist Michael Geist. His March 10th, 2015 blog entry on this issue can be found by clicking here.

Excellent News For Music Fans

I have just received word that the “Tour Tax”, a prohibitive fee that international artists were subjected to when performing in Canada, has been scrapped.

This counterproductive fee kept newer artists out of Canada, especially independent and unsigned artists, and has caused many clubs to stop featuring live acts altogether. 

Over 143,000 signatures had been registered on a change.org petition promoted on this blog in 2013, which was presented to Jason Kenney, Canada’s Minister for Multiculturalism.

Retail Council Wants Levy Scrapped

According to The Wire, the Retail Council Of Canada has formally asked the Conservative government to scrap the blank audio media levy.

The group had previously stated in a March 12th, 2010 press release that they oppose any extention of the levy, stating that it would disadvantage Canadian retailers. And in this press release they stated they believed this “anti-competitive tax should be repealed altogether” :

Retailers contend the levy system is obsolete in an age of rapid technological change and does nothing to support and protect Canadian artists.”

I agree. And strangely enough the proponants of the levy also agree because they’re constantly trying to levy the next technology by stating the previous technology is no longer being used to copy music.

In less than five years the current levy was made obsolete, resulting in the following question on the savethelevy.ca web site : “It’s 2011 … who uses CD-Rs to copy music anymore?”

Well, cell phones and tablets are now being used to play back music files and cloud services will stream music to these devices shortly in Canada, making mp3 player obsolete soon. But of course like the Retail Council of Canada I believe the CPCC’s arguements are fundementally flawed :

Retail Council of Canada calls for changes to the Copyright Act to provide an explicit exception recognizing that private copying for archival or backup purposes and for format shifting purposes by individuals of legitimately acquired copies of works or sound recordings and movies is legal. This should include private copying for such purposes as platform shifting, backup purposes, or the avoidance of obsolescence.”

Remuneration is not required from consumers that have purchased music from online music retailers whose formats imply use on portable music devices in which electronic memory cards can be placed or embedded. And individuals that make personal copies for private use from recordings they’ve purchased fail to qualify as distributors because the recordings and resulting copies remain in their possession, regardless of the format shifting involved.

Private copying in no way infringes copyright, as defined by Part III, Section 27 of the Copyright Act. And a levy is not required because royalties have already been collected from the sale of legally purchased compact discs or music files, from which the private copies are made.

The alledged prominence of piracy on the internet in no way make devices like mp3 players conform to the term “blank audio media”, as defined by the Copyright Act. And the Copyright Board have already ruled that memory cards also did not qualify in a December 12th, 2003 decision.

Levy On Memory Cards Proposed, Again.

The Canadian Private Copying Collective had applied for a levy on memory cards at the Copyright Board.

On March 31st, the CPCC has asked the Copyright Board to extend the definition of Blank Audio Recording Media to include memory cards so they can obtain up to $3 in levies per card from manufacturers and importers of this media.

Published in the supplement of the Canada Gazette on May 14th, the rates are as follows :

$0.50 on each memory card that is less than 1 GB
$1.00 on each memory card that is above 1GB but under 8GB
$3.00 on each memory card that is 8GB and more

Unfortunately for the CPCC the definition of what can be and cannot be levied is clearly defined in Section 79 of our Copyright Act :

“audio recording medium” means a recording medium, regardless of its material form, onto which a sound recording may be reproduced and that is of a kind ordinarily used by individual consumers for that purpose, excluding any prescribed kind of recording medium

In respect to this definition the Copyright Board had ruled in December 2003 that the evidence presented to them had not clearly demonstrated “that these recording media are ordinarily used by individuals for the purpose of copying music.”

To store and play back music all one requires is a class 2, 2GB per second memory card. A higher class card is not necessary as it does not improve the sound quality of the recording nor the performance of the device in which this memory card is placed.

Class 4, 4GB per second memory cards were introduced to facilitate the storage of photographs whilst Class 6 (6GB/s) and Class 10 (10GB/s) memory cards were created to record and store high definition video.

The only Secure Digital card created explicitly for music is the SD-Audio format, so a blanket levy on all memory cards is inappropriate or justified.

That said, one then has to wonder why the proposed rates are quite low in comparison to their previous request.

In 2002 they had requested $8 per gig on memory cards according to the March 9th, 2002 edition of the Canada Gazette. But the Canadian labels the CPCC represent still claim that more and more people are copying music “illegally” to devices with memory cards.

It appears their proposals are inconsistant and somewhat arbitrary.

Perhaps they’re attempting to make the levy more palatable. But it makes no sense to reduce the levy whilst claiming there is more harm to the copyright holders since 2002, unless the proposed rate in 2002 was exagerated.

I believe in proposing this levy the CPCC are actually attempting to solicit a definition that enables them to levy the memory cards embedded in mp3 players.

After all, the term they used in the proposal was “electronic memory card“, which doesn’t distinguish embedded from non embedded memory cards. And they could attempt to argue that though most memory cards are not ordinarily used for music that memory cards that are embedded inside mp3 players are.

Technically such a levy would not be a mp3 player levy but a levy on the memory card inside the mp3 player, that they could repackage as a “compromise” during the upcoming copyright reform process.

But we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. For now we can object to the levying of memory cards that we primarily use for our own photographs and videos.

The Copyright Board will be accepting objections to the “Statement of Proposed Levies to Be Collected by CPCC on the Sale, in Canada, of Blank Audio Recording Media for the Years 2012 and 2013“, as published in the May 14th, 2011 supplement of the Canada Gazette, until July 13th, 2011 at the following address :

GILLES MCDOUGALL
Secretary General
56 Sparks Street, Suite 800
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0C9

613-952-8630 (fax)

Please note that these objections may become part of public record so it is preferable to address the issue politely.