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The Hockey Song? Blame Michael Geist

By Christopher Moore | June 7, 2008

Browsing CBC News online and reading the Globe & Mail’s letters page, I was impressed by the near-unanimous opinion of letter-writers (hundreds at the CBC site) that the CBC should keep using the iconic Hockey Night in Canada theme — and pay the songwriter what she was due. Canadians seem to agree: the songwriter deserves to get paid; the CBC should not be cheap and stupid about a song they would otherwise love to keep using. It’s a heartening reminder that many Canadians support artists and believe they are entitled to be paid in proportion to the value of the work they provide.

It’s the CBC attitude that is striking. Like so many producers and publishers, the people running this large organization have cottoned on the dubious new ideology that creative work should be freely (freely as in unpaidly) available — and turned it to the service of corporate cost-cutting. Why should we pay some songwriter, they say, like a kid downloading mp3 files.

The largest beneficiaries of Michael Geist’s anti-copyright arguments, turn out, again and again, not to be ordinary users — most of whom seem to agree that Dolores Claman is entitled to her licensing fee — but CanWest and Rogers and the CBC and all the rest, who use it as an argument to appropriate even more of creators’ rights and incomes.

The CBC has announced that if it loses the familiar theme, it will hold a “contest” and offer a prize of $100,000 for a new song: Songwriter Idol. And then they will get millions of dollars of value from the song, and the creator will be able to say, “Gee, I once won a contest” and “Do you want fries with that?” (Update: the CBC has now said it intends to offer royalties as well as the prize. Oddly, it has promised half the royalties to minor hockey — isn’t that the prerogative of the rightsholder?)

The Globe makes one good point in an editorial — this is not the national anthem. A program theme need not last forever, and there’s nothing wrong with introducing a new one. But they go wrong in criticizing the “expatriate” songwriter for expecting to go on being paid. Dolores Claman has been writing songs since the 1960s: she’s entitled to retire where she chooses. The editor of The Globe will not doubt one day have his winter place if Florida, and will not be sneered at as an expatriate journalist. Why the double standard for artists?

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