Canada Supreme Court Rules Against Music Industry: No Separate Copyright for iTunes Previews, Game Downloads

Music owners should not get royalties for 30- to 90-second iTunes song samples or for music in video game downloads

A ruling by Canada's Supreme Court Thursday morning further delineated between music owners' right to be paid and listeners' right to use downloaded music without infringing on copyright.

The decision confirmed that — under Canada's "fair dealings" clause, a similar legal guideline to "fair use" in the United States — users shouldn't have to pay to hear 30- to 90-second clips of songs on Apple's iTunes store. 

Music industry advocates claimed that the song samples counted as a public performance and garnered copyright payment. But the Copyright Board, now backed by the highest court, held that the previews were exempted as "research" under the fair dealing law.

The ruling is expected to be met with muted criticism from the music business because the samples help drive download sales.

In another of the five copyright rulings handed down Thursday, the Court decided that music owners are not entitled to royalties on video game soundtracks each time the game is downloaded. 

Game designers pay copyright fees on the music they use. The Court said that paying to download a game was no different than buying a hard copy from a store and paying royalties amounted to double-dipping for the music industry.

The decision overturned previous rulings by the Copyright Board and an appeals court. 

In an explanation of their decision, the Court wrote: "To do otherwise would effectively impose a gratuitous cost for the use of more efficient, Internet-based technologies. The Internet should be seen as a technological taxi that delivers a durable copy of the same work to the end user. The traditional balance in copyright between promoting the public interest in the encouragement and dissemination of works and obtaining a just reward for the creators of those works should be preserved in the digital environment."