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I’ll admit it: If you go through the files on my computer, you’ll find songs that I downloaded from Napster and other illegal file-sharing sites. At the time — for me it was 2001-2003 — downloading songs illegally was seen as a goof, even harmless. How could a couple of downloaded tracks bother a multi-national record label or some millionaire rock stars?

That attitude was totally, utterly wrong, of course, and by the time I woke up to this reality, the recorded music industry was starting to spiral downwards. Fast. CD sales had begun to plummet and it became clear that piracy was one of the big contributing factors.

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My pirate ways were killed forever by iTunes. It was just easier to pay 99 cents/$1.29 for a high-quality audio file than endure terrible sounding, often incomplete, sometimes virus-ridden MP3s downloaded from god knows where. Who wanted the hassle of finding torrents and seeding sites with new material?

Then there was the issue of metadata, making sure that the songs were labelled correctly. Oftentimes, a torrented song would have the wrong title, spell the name of the artist wrong, or not include all the necessary tags. You have to then organize the songs somehow in your library. Besides being wrong and immoral, music piracy took too much work.

I’ve since amassed thousands of legal digital downloads. As I write this, iTunes tells me I have 79,640 items (564.5 gigs) in my library. Not all are paid-for downloads, of course. There are many, many CD rips along with other audio such as interviews, with much being associated with my work with The Ongoing History of New Music.

When streaming started to take off in Canada around 2010, most believed that this would be the end of music piracy. Why would you bother to steal something when you could: (a) pay a modest monthly fee and have all the music you could possibly want; and (b) sign up for the free tier on Spotify and for the price of having to listen to a few ads, pay nothing at all for all the music in the universe?

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Piracy was conquered. Except it wasn’t. And Canadians are still stealing stuff.

According to the most recent report by the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA), a group that represents the interests of not just the recorded music industry, but TV, movies, videogame publishers, and more, we Canadians are thieves. At 241 pages, it’s a long report, but it can be summarized in this statement: “It is nearly impossible to overstate the magnitude of the piracy problem in Canada.”

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Drawing from information in a report from the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (which administers all the .ca domains, among other things), Canadians are some of the worst when it comes to pilfering American copyrighted works. We already watch a lot of TV and movies and listen to plenty of music, but the reports contend that the real numbers are higher due to people consuming pirated content.

I quote: “Evidence persists, however, that the digital marketplace for copyrighted content in Canada continues to face challenges in realizing its full potential due to competition from illicit online sources. In 2022, 22.4% of Canadians accessed pirate services.”

Nearly a quarter of us? Wow.

We’re doing a lot of stream-ripping, apparently. This involves using software to record the stream of a YouTube video or songs streamed from Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, or any other DSP (Digital Streaming Provider). “Dozens of websites, software programs, and apps offering stream-ripping services find an eager marketplace in Canada,” says the report.

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It continues: “Use of peer-to-peer (P2P) sites remains high, with BitTorrent indexing sites including Rarbg, The Pirate Bay, and 1337x popular in Canada. Cyberlocker sites, such as Mega, Uptobox, GoFile, and Rapidgator, are also a common way to illicitly access recorded music.”

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Theft of music is a big issue, but video piracy is where the majority of the action is. The report says that we’re “actively involved” in all the different ways we can get around digital locks and technological protection measures.

Pirate IPTV (Internet Protocol Television) services — sometimes seen advertised on light poles at intersections — have plenty of customers. And chances are you know a guy who knows a guy who can fix you up with more free TV than you can handle with a special set-top box. Just Google “IPTV Canada” and watch what comes up. I’ve even seen these boxes for sale in retail stores.

More from the report: “Mimicking the look and feel of legitimate streaming services, infringing streaming websites continue to overtake P2P sites as a highly popular destination for Canadians seeking premium content in both English and French. … Canadian piracy operators remain involved in the coding and development of infringing add-ons and Android application packages (APKs) that enable subscription piracy services and mass-market [set-top boxes] to access streaming services without authorization.

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“Few resources are dedicated to prosecutions of piracy cases; prosecutors generally lack specialized training in prosecuting such offenses, and too often dismiss the file or plead the cases out, resulting in weak penalties.”

So what’s being done? The IIPA believes that the RCMP is too busy to investigate the situation. Local police forces also have their hands full with day-to-day policing. There have been a few crackdowns here and there, but nothing to really dent the pirate market. The IIPA is demanding more federal funding to fight piracy, the creation of specialized groups to pursue illegal IPTV sites/sellers, and is encouraging Canadian officials to work together with their American counterparts.

And you thought that Canadians were so nice and law-abiding.

Alan Cross is a broadcaster with Q107 and 102.1 the Edge and a commentator for Global News.

Subscribe to Alan’s Ongoing History of New Music Podcast now on Apple Podcast or Google Play

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