While Other Countries Debate Copyright Terms, Canada Just Takes Record Labels' Word That It Needs To Increase

from the because-of-course dept

Pretty much since the dawn of copyright, there have been debates about what the proper length of copyright’s term should be. Sometimes these debates can be heated and passionate. Go all the way back to 1841, in the UK, where Thomas Macaulay gave his famous speech against copyright term extension, in which he noted how it was being done based on no actual evidence of necessity:

Copyright is monopoly, and produces all the effects which the general voice of mankind attributes to monopoly. My honorable and learned friend talks very contemptuously of those who are led away by the theory that monopoly makes things dear. That monopoly makes things dear is certainly a theory, as all the great truths which have been established by the experience of all ages and nations, and which are taken for granted in all reasonings, may be said to be theories. It is a theory in the same sense in which it is a theory, that day and night follow each other, that lead is heavier than water, that bread nourishes, that arsenic poisons, that alcohol intoxicates.

If, as my honorable and learned friend seems to think, the whole world is in the wrong on this point, if the real effect of monopoly is to make articles good and cheap, why does he stop short in his career of change? Why does he limit the operation of so salutary a principle to sixty years? Why does he consent to anything short of a perpetuity? He told us that in consenting to anything short of a perpetuity he was making a compromise between extreme right and expediency. But if his opinion about monopoly be correct, extreme right and expediency would coincide. Or rather why should we not restore the monopoly of the East India trade to the East India Company? Why should we no revive all those old monopolies which, in Elizabeths reign, galled our fathers so severely that, maddened by intolerable wrong, they opposed to their sovereign a resistance before which her haughty spirit quailed for the first and for the last time? Was it the cheapness and excellence of commodities that then so violently stirred the indignation of the English people?

I believe, Sir, that I may safely take it for granted that the effect of monopoly generally is to make articles scarce, to make them dear, and to make them bad. And I may with equal safety challenge my honorable friend to find out any distinction between copyright and other privileges of the same kind; any reason why a monopoly of books should produce an effect directly the reverse of that which was produced by the East India Companys monopoly of tea, or by Lord Essexs monopoly of sweet wines. Thus, then, stands the case. It is good that authors should be remunerated; and the least exceptionable way of remunerating them is by a monopoly. Yet monopoly is an evil. For the sake of the good we must submit to the evil but the evil ought not to last a day longer than is necessary for the purpose of securing the good.

Since then, of course, there have been many, many debates on the proper length of copyright terms. But usually, at the very least there is some debate about it, with people weighing in on various sides.

That’s why it was somewhat astounding, last month, when Canada just announced with no warning that it was extending copyright as part of a budget update. There was no discussion around it. No public debate. Nothing at all.

And, now, as Michael Geist has discovered, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s correspondence with the recording industry shows that he just decided to ratchet up copyright term himself, without even asking for public input or even bothering to consider how such a move might harm the public.

Thank you for your recent letter regarding the copyright term for sound recordings. I have reviewed this material carefully, and share your view that the current term of copyright protection for sound recordings falls short of what is required to protect artists and ensure they are fairly compensated for their work.

Please know that, as announced today in Budget 2015, our Government will extend copyright protection for sound recordings from 50 to 70 years. The extension will be incorporated into the Budget Implementation Act, and will be in effect immediately upon passage of the legislation.

This is quite incredible on many different levels. Harper must know that any change to copyright law is controversial and deserves public debate and discussion. After all, he’s been through a few debates concerning copyright reform in Canada. Did he really think that he could just do this without anyone noticing?

And, really, considering that this is a move to flat out take away the public’s rights, you’d have to think that it’s only appropriate to at least hold a public discussion about whether or not extending copyright in such a manner makes sense. But, nope. The head of the Canadian recording industry lobby sent a letter, and Harper said “Sure, let’s slip that into the budget.”

As Michael Geist notes, the whole thing is incredible on many levels:

The letter is remarkable as it confirms that the copyright term extension for sound recordings was strictly the product of behind-the-scenes industry lobbying with no broader public consultation or discussion. While other countries spent years debating the issue with careful study, the Canadian government simply caved on the issue based on a little lobbying from foreign record labels. The Conservative government did not consult with Canadian companies or retailers about the impact of their changes, nor did they dig into the data that would have revealed that this change will decrease revenues for many artists. Instead, the major record labels pulled out all the stops to block competitive new records from entering the marketplace and the Prime Minister obliged by including copyright reforms in a budget bill.

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Comments on “While Other Countries Debate Copyright Terms, Canada Just Takes Record Labels' Word That It Needs To Increase”

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Karl (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

So now it’s life plus 70 years

Actually, no, not in Canada.

In Canada, for sound recordings, the copyright term starts at the date of publication. That is, it’s straight-up 70 years, regardless of how long the recording artist lives.

This actually brings up something interesting. For songwriters and publishers, the term length is dependent upon the longevity of the author (it’s life plus 50 years). This means that a songwriter will continue to be paid royalties for sound recordings, even after they’ve entered the public domain.

This means that songwriters and publishers benefit tremendously when sound recordings go into the public domain. Not only are they getting royalties from the label that formerly held the sound recording copyright, they’re also getting royalties from the many other labels that publish the now-public-domain sound recordings.

This is why this particular copyright term extension will screw over songwriters, at the expense of labels.

As an interesting side note, in Canada, though the royalty rates are statutory, permission is not required. This allowed major publishers – who are the same corporations as major labels – to refuse competing labels the use of their songs. This won’t affect the publishing corporations – their losses will be made up from the monopoly profits from their sound recording divisions. But it definitely screws over the actual songwriters.

I wrote about this (largely via the work of Michael Geist) here:

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“This means that a songwriter will continue to be paid royalties for sound recordings, even after they’ve entered the public domain.”

Can you explain that for me? Is public domain in Canada different to everywhere else? I thought that once a work hits the PD, it’s a free for all. You can use it, take it, copy it, edit it, all without having to pay or seek permission from the author(s).

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Where is the separation of powers?

You mean in Canada ministers can do whatever they want without discussion, and their party will just accept that post factum?

Sure, once you invoke the War Measures Act, you can suspend habeas corpus. Until then, no, we have procedures that are expected to be followed, and I don’t think cutting the CRTC off at the knees is quite what you want for your regulatory climate.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Where is the separation of powers?

The US is one few countries that actually elects a singular individual into a position of power.

In Canada, and most other democratic nations around the world, the party leader is quite literally the leader of a party. The party nominates and elects someone within their group to be the representative and head, and generally accept their leadership through elections and through governance.

That doesn’t mean that the party can’t disagree with the leader, and there are cases of infighting over minor issues, but for the most part they’re settled internally. If there’s a big enough issues (AKA, a major scandal, or lack of confidence in the leader to get the party elected), then the party can decide, as a whole, to oust the leader and chose a new one.

Neghvar (profile) says:


before the CTEA expires in 2018, software publishers should be against another extension. There is no reason for them to want to extended the copyright of their OS’s, apps or games. In 2100 and later, they will likely be lost in the abyss of time. If not, they will not function on anything. There is no logical or practical reason for them to support extending copyright.

anony says:

What an idiot!!!

Although i must say that doing this will hopefully caus a hell of a lot of backlash that could ensure a lowering of copyright or even a fundamental change.
Saying that maybe he decided to do as asked because of money and greed, well we all now that copyright is being ignored by the majority of the population, damn even the top artists are ignoring copyright laws and studios are ignoring copyright laws or twisting them to mean the opposite to what they were meant to be.
Maybe this idiot actually realised that he could increase copyright to 100 years and it would just not make any difference to anyone but the artists who will just have to demand better terms in contracts and specify the period any studio can use the copyright of their content and when it reverts back to them.

Thankfully this action brings the conversation out into the open, the conversation of corruption and monopoly and abuse of power. it also enables everyone in Canada to ignore the copyright laws as they were passed without any input from anyone other than the one person that maybe made a few thousand dollars from putting it into a bill where it should never have been, trying to cover his butt and prevent anyone talking about it and wondering how much he was paid to sell the people away to the monopolists.
I believe it will backfire on him very very badly just as it will backfire on the monopoly.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“It will hurt Google’s profits”

I’d love to hear his explanation for this claim, if he weren’t an obsessed moron who loves to just threadshit and run every time.

I mean, let’s say that his fictional premise is true, and Google make most of their profits from piracy (they don’t, of course, but let’s bear with this lie for now). How in the hell would extending copyright by 20 years reduce those profits? Surely, that just extends the number of years for which pirated copies can exist, and thus the length of time Google can profit from it. In reality, of course, Google make money either way since their ad revenue is not predicated on the copyright status of the things people search for, but if it was this just guaranteed them 20 years more income from every work.

Even in the fiction they’ve created for themselves, there’s no internal logical consistency. Maybe that’s why people like him whine all the time here about losing money. I mean, if this is the standard of their creative work, it’s no wonder they can’t sell it.

David says:


While Other Countries Debate Copyright Terms, Canada Just Takes Record Labels’ Word That It Needs To Increase

I am pretty sure that in this case, the Record Labels’ Word was as good as gold.

One of the sources of the exploding antisemitism in Europe in the close of the 19th century was the growing dissatisfaction of the populace that the legal system underlying the checks and balances of society was predominantly staffed (particularly in the high ranks) with scholars from Talmud schools, making a “Christian society” being “run by Jews”. In the middle ages, similar resentments arose from the control of Jews over financial means since they had made the best from being allowed few jobs out of money lenders and salesmen, with some becoming an important controlling force.

Now while the current sickness pervading all democracies can’t really be seen to run along religious lines, we have a similar situation in that we’ve grown a separate societal class running the show that is spinning out of societal control, acts with significant self-interest and has morals detached from those of the populace: politicians. They have infested most democracies, turning them into a mockery where whoever a person may vote for, he’ll get a greedy self-serving amoral rich shill in control. Now it’s not like this infestation of a self-serving political class is the privilege of democracy: all long-running political systems show it. It’s just that with democracies, it’s more cynical.

And one not restrained by the teachings of any religion. Now most of the pogroms and Jew persecutions of history that sought to redistribute control were organized from the top, riding on public resentment. In this case, we have no direct powerful profiteurs controlling and channeling public resentment, so there are quite higher thresholds to pass before they erupt into uprisings.

Maybe we need to get rid of systems favoring large parties: they seem to channel the “people don’t have choice anyway” stance.

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