Saturday, June 02, 2012

The Big Fat Canadian Wedding “Tax” – SOCAN + Re:Sound + AVLA - Pay Three Pipers and Double for Dancing

1566 The Wedding Dance by Pieter Brueghel the Elder

The Copyright Board has recently delivered reasons and a tariff for Re:Sound for the use of music at “live events”. Re:Sound represents record companies and performers. SOCAN has been getting paid for these types of “events” for many years. Re:Sound is now playing catch up. And the Copyright Board is letting it do so retroactively back to the beginning of 2008.

The tariff item that that is naturally getting the most attention is for weddings, which are considered to be “receptions”. There are numerous media references to this as a “tax” and to the fact that it’s retroactive. Indeed, the media focus on this tariff is remarkable, compared to most other Board tariffs .  The Board will presumably take note of all this media coverage, since it now has recently entered into a contract with a "newspaper clippings and reports services" provider. The new tariff also covers other live events such as parades, parks, fireworks displays, circuses and lots of other places. 

One odd thing about the wedding tariff is that it gets doubled if there is dancing. There aren’t many weddings without dancing.  It‘s not easy to figure out why dancing should double the tariff. This is why many may see this as a “dance tax” or even a “wedding tax”.  Depending on how many wedding guests are present, the “tax” payable to SOCAN and Re:Sound can be as much as $253.45, if recorded music is used. (If only live and no recorded music is used, Re:Sound needn't be paid). Presumably, SOCAN’s and Re:Sound’s roving inspectors don’t count as “guests”. And the Copyright Board is permitting and encouraging the sharing of information between SOCAN and Re:Sound.

But that’s not all folks. If you use a DJ, the DJ has to get a copyright license from AVLA – another music industry collective - for the privilege making mechanical reproductions (unless the DJ does not pre-record anything, which would be rare) – for which the DJ will certainly charge the happy couple either directly or indirectly.

It’s true that most people do not tend to get married very often. And many weddings cost $25,000 or more. So, some may not be too concerned about the macro or even microeconomic aspects this particular tariff item. It won’t likely harm Canada’s economy overall or even the institution of marriage. 

But these little tariffs add up. The little tariffs such as $0.29 for a blank CD or $5.16 per year for each K-12 student, or $253.45 for a wedding soon add up to about $500 million a year in Canada. One is tempted to say that "A half billion here, a half billion there, pretty soon, you're talking real money."  Copyright Board tariffs siphon huge sums out of the educational system, the broadcasting and telecom industries, businesses of all kinds that use blank media for ordinary data storage and transfer purposes, etc.  

Sadly, very little of this money through gets to the artists that need it the most.  This is because the copyright collective system tracks and rewards commercial success. Celine Dion, U2,  Lady Gaga and their record and publishing companies do very well by the this system but emerging creators see very little of this money. The ones who really and consistently benefit the most are those who run the collectives, those who are consultants to the collectives, and the lawyers who punctually pursue new and higher Copyright Board tariffs using money raised from the previous tariffs and paid for ultimately by the Canadian public. Many if not most Copyright Board hearings generate millions of dollars in legal fees in order to generate average annual payments to creators that are typically much less than a junior lawyer’s hourly rate. 

Canada is notable and perhaps even unique in its propensity for encouraging multiple tariffs requiring multiple payments to multiple parties for the same transaction. The Copyright Board sees no problem with this approach. It values each right separately, which results in significant additional complexity, hearing costs, and overall license and royalty costs that are inevitably passed on to consumers and taxpayers. We don’t see this nearly as much in the USA, where the Courts and Congress have gone to some length to avoid this phenomenon.  Canada has six times as many copyright collectives as the USA and a copyright tribunal with more than five times the staff and up to two more members than its American counterpart.

There were about two dozen parties opposed to this Re:Sound “live events” tariff. The Board, to its credit, went to some length to allow late interventions, since it took a long time for the thousands of potentially affected parties to realize what was about to unfold. The fact is that very few of Canadians even know about the Copyright Board, much less spend hours every year monitoring the Canada Gazette or the Copyright Board websites, which is where notice is given of these proposed tariffs.  One of the oldest and most cynical observations in Ottawa is that the best way to keep a secret is to publish it in the Canada Gazette. Sadly, this is still true to a great extent – even in the age of the internet.

There was no oral hearing in this instance, which is perfectly understandable – since probably none of the institutional objectors or interveners could have afforded or justified the six or seven figure costs of getting that far. Cost is no problem, however, for Re:Sound – since it has huge cash flows from previous tariffs and it has only one mission – which is to establish and enforce new and higher tariffs. 

It is entirely possible that this “multiple tariff” and “layering” problems may be addressed by the Supreme Court of Canada in the eagerly awaited “pentalogy” of cases from the Copyright Board heard on December 6 and 7, 2011 – all of which emanate from the Copyright Board.

If not, this issue may rise to the top of the list of priorities for the next wave of copyright law reform. In an era of “no new taxes”, Canada’s copyright system is the gift that keeps giving to its more than three dozen copyright collective, their consultants and their counsel. And Canadian citizens from newlyweds to university presidents are beginning to take notice.


PS - here's some coverage from CTV that has been updated to include some information about Re:Sound and its tariff revenues.


  1. Great, another means of tranferring wealth from us average folk and into the pockets of the rich.

    Great Plan.

  2. This is a tariff (not a tax)that charges you on whether the music is the focus or just background. Re:Sound is just terrible at the PR on this. They should be saying "This is the tariff, it's half of this if music is only in the background" instead of the whole "Double if you're dancing" pitch. Just another expense, the same as the LLBO charges you for a liquor license and the gov't nails you on GST for everything.
    Also worth noting: this is a tariff on the venue, not on the people getting married. If the hall passes it on to the people renting the hall, that's their perogative but it's actually an operating expense aimed at them, not the people having the event.

  3. Meanwhile, Bill C-11 means that these same happy couple will not own, but only be able to license, their wedding photos.

    From the legislative summary at

    "Clause 7 of the bill repeals subsection 13(2) of the Act (ownership of copyright for commissioned photographs). The bill seeks to make the photographer or painter the owner of copyright in photographs or portraits that have been commissioned, thereby bringing the ownership of copyright in photographs in line with other works. Presently, the person who commissions a photograph or portrait, rather than the photographer, is deemed to be the first owner of the copyright. Photographers, therefore, have had to rely on contractual arrangements to obtain rights to reproduce their photographs. The bill gives the person who commissioned the photograph or portrait limited rights to use it for personal or non-commercial use without the photographer or artist’s permission, subject to any contract that specifies otherwise."

  4. Dear Anon at 10:30:

    Interesting that you say it's not a tax and you then go right on to say it's "the same as ...the gov't nails you on GST for everything."


  5. Why is there so little we can do about such bills? I mean, this government has already hurt the arts enough and now community groups, charities, community social dance organizers, and arts groups - I run a charity walk that, for example, runs at cost and has an operating budget of $200 in total (kept minimal due to CRA regulations) - have another fee to pay to provide a valuable community service when they're not out to make a profit on anything. It just means there won't be any prerecorded music at all at my event now, and any dancing will be done only to live music (good luck getting a Salsa band if a salsa troupe wants to donate a performance for free at our event, for example!). One more arts/cultural amenity killed by regressive thinking.

    I'm all for making sure people get paid for what they do as much as possible - particularly small independent and up and coming musicians who will see very little of this money. As a result, I pay for any music I own by buying it through legitimate means such as iTunes, as I truly support and believe in this progressive medium of due compensation to musicians. This, however, seems like a pure and simple money grab, especially the dance tax and the retroactive application that (please pardon my use of rhetoric) offends me to the core by targeting both the struggling arts, community ventures,and the personal spaces of regular every day people.

  6. maybe I'm wrong here but I don't believe it's in the charter of the Copyright Board to determine or consent to allow charges to be applied to what people do when listening or playing music. Sure, they may be able to make decisions on when a tariff for playing music should be allowed but not what people do when that music is playing. Dancing to music in no way infringes on copyright.

    this should be challenged as it is not a part of the scope of the Copyright Board's charter.

  7. Furthermore it would appear that charging a fee for dancing violates the Canadian Charter of Rights
    Part I
    Fundamental Freedoms

    2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
    (b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression

    And dancing by commonly recognized definition is a form of expression, see:

    Dance is a type of art that generally refers to movement of the body, usually rhythmic and to music,[1] performed in many different cultures and used as a form of expression, social interaction and exercise or presented in a spiritual or performance setting.

    As the Charter expressly defines the freedom of expression, which includes dancing to music, as a fundamental freedom, people should not be charged or subject to a tariff or tax on a guaranteed fundamental freedom regardless of the location or type of event.

  8. What about restaurants, construction sites, churches, municipalities, and any other venues, businesses and organizations? Which tariff applies to them to uphold the copyright law? Or is it a selective taxation?

  9. These tariffs are crap. There a great way for a bunch of lawyers and MBA's to line their pockets in the name of standing up for "artists".
    Why should session players and sound engineers be allowed to claim residuals for works they produced? Didn't they get paid for doing their job in the first place? If a plumber puts a toilet in my business, should he get paid 5 cents a flush from now till eternity?
    How many times should a business be expected to pay for music they purchased in good faith?

  10. wow...
    and how do I word THIS one to prospective wedding clients?!

  11. As an art gallery owner we received a letter from RE:Sound stating that we had to pay this tariff, even though we just rent the space out to people to hold their events there. We have no clue if the music they might be playing will be covered under re:sound, or if the DJ's are licensed or if they will be dancing. Why would we be responsible to collect on behalf of people who just rent the space from us?

  12. the fees charged at night clubs is a fraction of the per event fees this system sucks and i hate the watchers and takers. We have events with 10 to 20 people regularly but capacity is 250 and the designated dancing area is only for 65 yet if 10 people show up socan is more than the entrance fee per person . Its simply creepy regressive extortion. Small venues for emerging talent are going to suffer or cheat neither of which is good for the musicians. NOCAS DOG

  13. why 3 of them do we have to pay all 3 ? I think all venues and should should band arm in arm and refuse and collectively get sued because as single entities we can just be abused . Im a visual artist and no one pays to look at my art in fact your not the original until you have been copied. This is yet another festering self serving bureaucracy that rubs shoulders with the courts and celine dion. One is a drag three is beyond creepy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!