“Only a stupid country could do this”

Category under: Think Big, Uncategorized

Canada’s Copyright Board ruled today that there should be an additional *TAX* of up to $25 if you buy an Mp3 player in this country, with the money going to artists to make up for online swapping. They also leave intact the existing *TAX* on buying blank CD-Rs.

Almost two years ago, I wrote the article “Only a stupid country could do this“. The full article can be found below; it seems to be an appropriate time to repost it.

Given such idiocy — and the presumption that if you buy an Mp3 player you are guilty of downloading music — there are likely many people who will never be buying another CD again. Indeed, they’ll actually join and use a swapping network — after all, they’ll be paying through the nose for music every time they buy a CD-R for business reasons, so why should they pay anymore. Heck, people will probably sign up with allofmp3.com and go on a downloading frenzy.

This type of idiocy will do nothing to slow the online downloding binge; indeed, it will simply add to it.

Read on.

The original article can be found here

Only a stupid country could do this…
Canoe, March 19, 2002

We snuck in under the cover of darkness.

I was trying out my new night vision goggles, the better to spot the border team. In my backpack, I had carefully packed a variety of Maxtor and Western Digital hard drives, a few Sony memory sticks, and several of the new Creative MP3 players to boot.

Altogether, I figure I was packing at least a couple of terabytes and a half.

Scott, to my left, had one of those new packs that featured external mesh rigging, and so he had crammed in a few extras, such as the new 1024Kb DRAM chips. Over on my right, Eddie, ever the joker, had hung a bunch of Sony memory sticks with string on the outside of his own pack, making him look like a misbegotten Christmas tree, the sticks swinging back and forth with each step.

All in all, we must have had a few dozen terabytes with us. Enough to get us busted big time, if we got caught.

We all took a deep breath and continued on.

It wasn’t always this way. One day, you could actually buy the gear of the information age in Canada.

We stopped to scan the border, and I spotted a guard over on the far right. It looked like he had one of those new storage-sensors, able to sniff out the heat-signature of computer equipment from among the brush. It had a range of 200m, and since we were at least 500m away, we were safe. We trudged on, silent now, not wanting to raise an alarm.

At some locations, it was easy to beat the border. There were areas staffed by the Mounties who years before, had the critical job of sniffing out and destroying illegal satellite dishes. The better to ensure Canadian Cultural Purity, we were told by our Leaders. Canadian-content and all that.

Never mind that other countries had other priorities in the early part of the century. They had invested heavily in border resources that could stop any terrorist who even dared to breath their nation’s air. Not so in Canada, we knew.

Our Government and Leaders didn’t worry about terrorists — it worried that people might get their hands on too many megabytes. They passed a law that provided for tax on every type of memory storage sold in Canada, with the funds from the tax going to musicians who were adversely impacted by the emergence of technology.

Naturally, when The Tax came into effect, people rebelled. People gave up on buying their storage needs from Canadian companies, and started to import them instead.

Lots of jobs were lost in those early days, particularly as a new hi- tech brain drain began, but our Leaders seemed not to worry. They had imposed The Tax, and all would be well. After all, they thought, our musicians would be happy.

Happy musicians would make happy music, and so the populace would be happy, and life would be happy. Happy people meant a happy economy.

At first, it was just a haphazard operation. A business trip to New York, a few hard drives in the briefcase, an upgrade in the laptop. “Anything to declare?” they’d ask at the border. “Our government is an idiot?” you’d gamely suggest, before remembering that the Customs guys didn’t have a sense of humor.

Over time, smuggling operations began to pay off. Heck, the cost of a typical MP3 player went from $100 to $1,200 with the tax, but with smuggled memory you could keep the cost to about $150 or so. A Dell computer that cost $999 zoomed to $1,800 with The Tax, but smart people would buy it for $799 without the hard drive.

It was no surprise that a big online swapping site began to flourish. It wasn’t driven by the demand for storage for MP3 players though. The fact was, it quickly became evident that there were tens of thousands of Canadians – no, hundreds of thousands – who couldn’t upgrade to the latest software versions, because they couldn’t afford the storage required.

A vicious spiral began. The Tax was increased again and ever again, because the musicians weren’t happy and the people weren’t happy — until it made the cost of computing in the country far out of reach.

Then came the dreaded Purity Act, the one that demanded that at least 10% of storage space be devoted to Canadian content. Some jokers filled up a section of their hard drive with Anne Murray’s “Snowbird,” dozens of copies, thinking that might satisfy the bureaucrats. They were busted big time when the Culture Police hacked into their systems and performed the legislated Content-Scan.

Honest Canadian’s didn’t give up in the face of such adversity, at first. The swapping site evolved, in short order, into a community. There was talk of the need to fight back, to organize petitions, to elect politicians- with-brains who might cancel the Tax. That all seemed to be brave talk, the type of false bravado inspired by beers over a campfire.

And then came the night we lost Andrew.

He was packing a whole bunch of compact flash cards – too many, I told him. But he was driven – not by the money, he said, but by the principal. “Darnit, Randall, they keep telling us that we’ve got to become a knowledge economy, and they keep putting ridiculous taxes on our tools. I’m not going to take any more from those idiots,” he said as he headed off to the gate at LaGuardia.

The last we heard, they took him out with an UZI at Pearson. Riddled with 37 bullets, went the story, all in the back. He approached the customs line, and when they realized he was carrying a lot of gigabytes, they began to push him around. We heard that he bolted through the line, and ran through the door, screaming “let our storage go….” Ever a sense of humour, even as he bled to death on the sidewalk by Arrivals.

At that point, it became The Movement. There were many who were convinced that Canadians had to fight back, and maybe the only way to do it was to begin a massive smuggling operation. Flood the border with all matter of storage. Some might get caught, and head to the Pen for violating Canada’s anti-storage statute, but many others might get through. Maybe with a concerted effort we could get Canada back on track.

Of course, the absurdity of the situation was not lost on those who quickly signed up. On the one hand, the politicians-in-charge were all too eager to tell the business world that they had better invest, become more productive, and get involved in the technology-economy-of-the-21st century. Why, there was that famous Deputy fellow, the one who caused such a stir one day and crashed the Canadian dollar when he was a little too blunt in his advice that Canada had to move forward in the information age.

And then the next day, the same government announced the Draconian anti-memory Tax.

The Tax.

Corruption begins on a small scale, said some in the Movement in those early days. There was Argentina, they pointed out, sunk by a morass of unethical politicians, all to eager to share at the teat of the funds sent their way by special interest groups. Greedy little buggers, they couldn’t give up even when they knew it was wrong, and eventually brought their country down with them.

That’s what went wrong with Canada, said these radicals of the Movement. These politicians, they argued, had become so corrupt with the lobbying from the music industry, broadcast groups, TV producers and other special interests, that they were willing to do the most stupid things possible.

Such as impose a tax on the very tools of the technology-economy.

I thought about this as I approached the border.

I looked around and trudged on, silent, wary, careful.


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