The IP press over last weekend headlined a conclusion by the Canadian Copyright Board that downloading songs from the Internet is legal, as long as the purpose is to create a copy for personal use. "Blame Canada" said the LA Times, obviously a nest of Southpark fans.
The reasoning was technical. A 1998 (pre-Napster) Canadian law creates this right, and says nothing that would limit the source of the copy. QED, downloading is legal. The Board split the baby by noting that uploading to the Internet remains illegal.
The Canadian Recording Industry Association will appeal to the courts, but it is not really a significant loss, and would have little impact even if transferred to the U.S. The music industry's enforcement strategy is to disrupt uploading, not crucify downloaders. A swapping system in which no one uploads and everyone tries to free ride is just ducky from the industry's perspective. It would even build markets for the legitimate services that are rapidly coming on line.
The more interesting part of the decision is the contortions the CCB must go through to supervise Canada's system of taxing hardware and blank media to create a fund to compensate artists for their losses to this right of private copying. Academia in the U.S. has become entranced by the idea of such non-market systems. But watching the Canadians struggle with rates, coverages (e.g., iPods but not hard drives), exemptions and other issues raised by the 1,500 commenters on the proposed levies should make them pause. Markets and pay-for-what-you-take have simplicity and moral clarity, qualities not found in any administrative proceeding that I have ever seen, and certainly not in this one.