Canada Extends Copyright Terms, Finally Giving Musicians Who Released Works More Than 50 Years Ago A Reason To Create

from the INCENTIVES! dept

For reasons no more sound than it possibly felt a bit inadequate when comparing copyright term length with its next-door-neighbor, Canada has increased the copyright term for sound recordings and performances from 50 years to 70 years. Supposedly, this will spur on further creative efforts in the future, seeing as the previous copyright term length brought about a creative drought spanning nearly two decades — one that commenced shortly after the end of World War II.

This move will allow Canada to keep apace of the United States’ contributions to the public domain by ratcheting that number closer to the desired “zero.” This should also trigger a massive explosion in creation, seeing as many recording artists will now be able to monetarily support their record labels far into their golden years (theirs — not the record labels’). This will also serve to keep the recordings out of the hands of deadbeats… like libraries… or archivists.

Michael Geist figures the TPP is behind this copyright extension.

The TPP is nearing the end game and the U.S. is still demanding many changes to Canadian copyright law, including copyright term extension for all works (not just sound recordings). The Canadian government’s strategy in recent years has been to enact reforms before the trade agreements are finalized in order to enhance its bargaining position. For example, it moved forward with notice-and-notice rules for Internet providers without the necessary regulations in order to have the system in place and protect it at the TPP talks. It may be trying to do the same here by extending term on sound recordings and hoping that that concession satisfies U.S. copyright demands.

This outside pressure would seem to be the prime motivator. It certainly isn’t coming from within the country — not even from the expected cheerleaders of upwardly-mobile copyright terms.

[J]ust last year the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage conducted a major review of the music industry in Canada with dozens of witnesses taking the time to appear or submit briefs. The final report and the government’s response never raise the term of protection for sound recordings and performances as a concern.

But Canadian citizens shouldn’t get too upset by this wholly expected turn of events. After all, as the head of Music Canada (RIAA, but maple-flavored) points out, an increasingly empty public domain is much better for the public than the alternative.

“With each passing day, Canadian treasures like Universal Soldier by Buffy Sainte-Marie are lost to the public domain. This is not in the public interest. It does not benefit the creator or their investors and it will have an adverse impact on the Canadian economy.”

Perhaps this argument could be repurposed for income tax: “Contributing money to public funds is not in the public interest. It does not benefit the guy who wants to keep all that money for himself.” The “public interest,” apparently, is whatever benefits the labels represented by Music Canada, rather than any other commonly-accepted definition.

Perhaps the worst excuse for this unneeded extension is this: it helps producers and musicians catch up with the positively surreal copyright terms songwriters and composers enjoy.

Songwriters and performing artists both contribute to the success of a recording. In Canada, the copyright in musical works subsists for the life of the songwriter plus 50 years. Performing artists are not treated equally, as their copyrights expire 50 years after the recording is made. Term extension to 70 years after recording or release partially addresses this disparity.

The smarter move would be to adjust the lengthier term down, rather than crank the shorter terms up. But once you’ve handed out this extension to a set of creators, you’ll never be allowed to roll it back. The creators may recognize the ridiculousness of this arrangement, but those that benefit the most from extended terms — the middlemen — have enough clout to ensure copyright protections constantly expand.

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Comments on “Canada Extends Copyright Terms, Finally Giving Musicians Who Released Works More Than 50 Years Ago A Reason To Create”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Let's do the math

The average lifespan is about mid-70s. So lets say someone wrote a song 50 years ago when they were 20 which puts them at 70 now. They will be greatly comforted knowing that they will hold the copyright for another 20 years, maybe 15 years past their death. I am guess that if you were to dig them up, there would be a little smile on their face as they contemplate how great it is that they will have copyright protection long after they are gone.

PaulT (profile) says:

“Canadian treasures like Universal Soldier by Buffy Sainte-Marie are lost to the public domain. “

Well, we know where his biases are. Nothing’s “lost” when something goes into the public domain, apart from the original copyright holder’s exclusive ability to control it. They can still make money, of course, they just can’t prevent anyone else from doing so. They also can’t stop them from offering it for free, for reusing and reworking, from creating new versions of the song, reusing parts of the song in other works, and so on. New venues can be found for the work, new audiences who wouldn’t normally pay for such a song but might be exposed through royalty free uses, and so on. The work, most importantly, still exists – something not necessarily true for those works created in the same period that are orphaned or considered uncommercial for modern release.

Yet again, the people pretending to help the most are the ones actively harming the most. I wish they’d just come clean and say “we’re still making money off some of these things so we have to restrict everything until the gravy train stops”. It would still be a negative move for everybody else, but it would at least be honest.

As an aside, I wasn’t familiar with the song mentioned (at least not by name), so I did a little searching. the song was not a hit to begin with, but became popular after British singer Donovan made a cover version that became popular in the US. That makes it such a Canadian treasure, that it has to be locked up away from Canadian musicians and other artists for another couple of decades, and maintain the toll for the Candian public to enjoy. While ensuring that orphaned works and other things that would benefit from being in the public domain cannot be enjoyed by the public. Yeah.

Rich Kulawiec (profile) says:

Re: Re:

There’s a moving version of this song (performed by Donovan) on “The Secret Policeman’s Concert” from 1981 — a compilation also featuring Sting, Phil Collins, Eric Clapton, Bob Geldorf, Jeff Beck and others.

But more interesting from a copyright of view is a very obscure remix from 1965 — just a year after it was released. Jan Berry (of Jan and Dean) rewrote the lyrics and retitled the song as “The Universal Coward” to express his take on it — which turned out to be pretty much the polar opposite of Sainte-Marie’s, and I suppose, a partial reflection of the divisiveness of the Vietnam War. Whether one agrees with his viewpoint or not isn’t important: the interesting question is whether or not that could even happen today.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: (Rich Kulasiec @0528)

If that wasn’t a parody then it might have been an “answer record”. That was a trend (admittedly not a big trend) where one artist would take another artist’s music but put different lyrics to it and effectively ‘answer’ or put another point of view onto the original song.

If it’s still around Dr. Demento did a whole 2 hour show involving answer records.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: (Rich Kulasiec @0528)

Dr. Demento still does his show, but now it’s streamed online rather than over the radio. He used to have the complete archives of past shows available on his website, but the shows from 1972 to 1992 have been removed after Westwood One was purchased by Dial Global, along with the rights to the show archives. If the show you mention falls in that time frame, then we’re out of luck.

(Yes, I’m a HUGE Dr. D fan. I even have a picture of myself with him framed in my office!)

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“we’re still making money off some of these things so we have to restrict everything until the gravy train stops”

Actually, what they are saying/doing is more like:

“We’re still making money of 0.03% of this content, so we have to restrict your access to ALL of it until the gravy train stops.”

They are salting the fields. Basically, willing to block access to tremendous amounts of content as collateral damage in their quest for greed-fueled profiteering.

And the irony is the point you made, that this song actually achieved greater fame, profit, joy-delivery, etc. ONLY when derivatives of it were made by Donovan and others. This very song that Music Canada’s spokesdouche brought up shows the value of derivative content can often exceed the original.

Also, the public good is not only measured in dollars for the economy. Songs in the public domain can offer $ millions in intangible value (economically called consumer surplus.) Basically, if we enjoy it for free, that is still a good thing, whether it registers in GDP or not.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“the public good is not only measured in dollars for the economy”

An incredibly important point. I would even go so far as to say that “the public good” is not primarily measured in dollars.

I’m well and truly sick of everything being measured in terms of monetary value. Doing so is incredibly distorting, since it makes many truly valuable and important things appear to be without value.

Just Another Anonymous Troll says:

are lost to the public domain. This is not in the public interest.
WHAT THE HELL?! How is this not in the public interest? The public domain literally has the word ‘public’ in it! It doesn’t get lost in the public domain, it’s no longer copy-protected so it can be archived and shared among everyone.
Yes, I know this is all copyright industry BS, but it’s so flagrantly BS that it ticks me off.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re:

That whole quoted paragraph is “Newspeak”. It’s disgusting that anyone can get away with mangling the language that horribly.

To put it into Rightsholder speak, we’ve all been cheated of our rightful and well earned inheritance. We gave them a limited monopoly to capitalize on (“monetize” :-P) the work, and they’ve been handsomely paid for their efforts. Now that limited term is over, it should rightfully belong to all of us; to our cultural heritage. This is theft on a massive scale including everyone alive today and generations to come. We’ve been robbed, all of us including the yet unborn, and this is just one work we’re talking about here.

Grand theft manipulation of copyright!

Anonymous Coward says:

If the length of copyright were reduced, then the amount of earnings from each content creation would also decrease thus encouraging the creators to create more content because they are starving artists – right?

Therefore, it is logical that an increase in copyright length will discourage creators from making more content because they get paid for doing nothing.

I realize this is over simplification. In particular, the artist does not receive money in perpetuity, the labels do – and they do not share. But it does point out their silly logic flaw.

Zonker says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

More than once I’ve attended concerts where the musicians were not allowed to perform their own hit songs because of a dispute with their old label who still held the rights to their music, creating the situation where performing their own work would infringe the old label’s copyright. Anyone who still believes that modern copyright law, at least on music, is for the benefit of the artist has to be willfully ignorant of reality.

I say “starve the beast”. Stop buying label owned music, only buy independent or direct from the musicians themselves. Support the artists through concerts and merchandise. Donate to their fan clubs. But do not spend a dime on label distributed albums or recordings. Do not obtain infringing copies though, just avoid purchasing their products.

Blue Adept (profile) says:

Copyright needs reforrm, not extension. Happy Birthday says it all

The Happy Birthday song is the perfect example of how messed up copyright is for music. This is a quote from

“Under the laws in effect at the time (1935), that copyright would have expired after one 28-year term and a renewal of similar length, falling into public domain by 1991. However, the Copyright Act of 1976 extended the term of copyright protection to 75 years from date of publication, and the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 added another 20 years, so under current law the copyright protection of “Happy Birthday to You” will remain intact until at least 2030.”


In reality, the song is much older than 1935. None of the royalties generated from this song go to the person who made this (since it is still unclear who actually did it) and only profits Warner Music Group.

Copyright needs to be completely redone. It a huge cash cow for the music industry, not the artists.

Pragmatic says:

Re: Re: Give 'em life!

Wouldn’t it make more sense to take out some kind of life/health insurance policy that covers catastrophic events? Not everyone makes a bajillion $$$ out of their music, just the lucky few. Copyright is a popularity contest, only the most popular artists reap the revenues. For everyone else, they’re lucky if they make a buck.

Chris Brand says:

Way to negotiate, Canada!

As a Canadian, I have to say that this seems to just reinforce the stereotypes. Either that or trade treaty negotiations are very different to any other kind of negotiation I’ve ever heard about. Isn’t our shorter copyright term for performers a *bargaining chip* ? One of those things where you say “ok, we’ll agree to increase that to 70 years if you’ll agree to XYZ” ? So why on Earth would you unilaterally make the requested change while you’re still negotiating ?

I can imagine these negotiators as parents:
Negotiator: “Get your homework done, son”
Son: “If I do it, can I have a cookie ?”
Negotiator: “You want a cookie? Here you go”
Son: “Thanks! Delicious”
Negotiator: “Now get that homework done!”
Son: “Only if you give me another cookie”
Negotiator: “Sure, here you go! Now, about that homework”
No wonder the USTR expects to always get their own way.

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