On World Book and Copyright Day, it is worth noting how Graham Henderson, the President of Music Canada (formerly the Canadian Recording Industry Association) characterized the government’s decision to extend the term of copyright in sound recordings and performances:
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.”
This statement raises several issues. First, it should be noted that the song Universal Soldier by Buffy Sainte-Marie is not in the public domain nor will it be entering the public domain for decades. As the songwriter, Buffy Sainte-Marie still holds copyright in the song and will do so for her entire lifetime plus an additional 50 years (Howard Knopf further explains the issue of copyright term in songs in this post).
What is at stake with the government’s proposed copyright term extension is not copyright in the song, but rather in the sound recording or performance. Those rights are often held by recording companies, not the artists. They are not authors rights, but rather “related rights” that are found in particular recordings. European studies on term extension for these rights found that the vast majority of revenues went to the record labels, not the artists.
Second, Henderson offers up a vision of the public domain where increasing access to works is somehow counter to the public interest. How would the public be better served by having less access and fewer works in the public domain? The recording industry would obviously like to keep works from entering the public domain so that it can continue to profit from them decades after having recouped their initial investment. Yet it hard to see how anyone can credibly claim that works are “lost” to the public domain and that the public interest in not served by increased public access.
Third, Henderson claims that works entering the public domain have an adverse effect on the Canadian economy. Numerous studies on the economic impact of the public domain find precisely the opposite. For example, Rufus Pollock’s work has examined the value of the public domain and Paul Heald has written several important articles on the economic importance of the public domain. Most recently, Heald found that Kickstarter projects based on public domain works were more likely to succeed and that commercial firms often use public domain works to create new commercial products. James Boyle’s book on the public domain is essential reading as is Yochai Benkler’s work on this issue. The expert analysis demonstrates that copyright term extension hurts the economy and the government’s decision to extend the term of copyright in sound recordings in Budget 2015 is likely to both harm the Canadian economy and undermine Canadians’ access to their cultural heritage.