Buffy-Sainte-Marie-DSC_2407 by sidrguelph (CC BY-SA 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/6NkJNh

Buffy-Sainte-Marie-DSC_2407 by sidrguelph (CC BY-SA 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/6NkJNh

News

Canadian Recording Industry: Works Entering the Public Domain Are Not in the Public Interest

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.

22 Comments

  1. Copyright was supposed to be a limited time agreement for rights under the agreed stipulation the works will enter the public domain at expiration but the agreement is a load of nonsense when they can simply extend the terms whenever Disney feels like it. If the general premise behind copyright is no longer respected then surely the public shouldn’t be forced to respect it either.

    • S. Keeling says:

      “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.”

      That entire paragraph is “Newspeak.” This is grand theft copyright manipulation. We’ve all been robbed of our rightful inheritance, including generations of the yet unborn. I am disgusted and appalled by this.

  2. “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”
    That says it all. This is not, nor has it ever been, about the artists. It has and always will be about the companies who control the material and their right to squeeze every last penny in existence out of people that they can for as long as they can. For as long as I can remember, the issue of copyright (not that violating it is something to be condoned), was always touted as a violation against the artist, and how the poor artist needed more money and so forth. If the bulk of the press highlighted the truth that it’s the companies begging for more, people would be less inclined to be so sympathetic. For those of us with half a functioning brain and realize, they are first, the acme of greed, we are further repulsed by their sleazy use of the artists, putting them at the fore to garner sympathy.
    Hey, I’m am absolutely all for anyone getting their due for their work, whether it’s a musician or a brake mechanic. Everyone deserves to be paid for what they do and when someone makes an enduring product, the right to retain some ownership. However, the way in which this continues to “go down” should cause the bile in your gullet to rise. And these companies wonder why public perception of them somehow defies the laws of physics as it falls faster than gravity.

  3. I’m curious about the copyright term. Music Canada claims that the rights holder holds copyright for fifty years while Geist and Knopf both say it’s fifty years. Section 23 of the act states, “copyright in a performer’s performance subsists until the end of 50 years after the end of the calendar year in which the performance occurs.” which would seem to be what Music Canada is referring to.

    The only was I can rationalize this is by seeing Music Canada splitting hairs. But does the rights holder hold copyright on the *recording* of fifty years, and on the *composition* for the life of the artist plus 50 years?

    If not, then what’s going on here?

    • Here’s the way I understand it:

      Let’s say you write a song. And you compose the music for that song. You own the copyright on that for the rest of your life plus 50 years. Weird Al wants to make a parody of it? He comes to you and you give him permission and/or negotiate something.

      Now let’s say you made a recording of that song. Put it on a CD or mp3 or 8 track. Sell it on your website. You own the copyright on that recording for 50 years. Similarly, if you record that song and a record label releases it on CD or mp3 or 8 track, you’ll probably transfer the copyright of that recording to them, meaning they own the copyright for 50 years. This is what is getting extending to 70 years.

      Someone correct me if I’ve misunderstood.

      • That’s the basics, but there’s also the “compulsory license” which (after the first release) allows a ‘cover” artist to record their own version without consent — they still have to pay royalties, but do NOT have to ask for permission.

        Also, song parodies can fall under “fair use” (see Elsmere Music, Inc. v. NBC,, 1980). Weird Al doesn’t actually need a license or permission, but the Weird Al example gets, well, weirder, because Al asks for permission and won’t release a parody commercially without it, though that doesn’t always work out perfectly, thus the drama over “Amish Paradise”.

        • John Ciccone says:

          These licenses (including mechanical) are *not* compulsory in Canada. The source also referring to Fair Use instead of Fair Dealing must be U.S. based. I’m only mentioning because there are some big enough differences to get one into mighty hot water :)

          Cheers.

  4. The recording labels “own” Mr. Henderson. He quacks to their rhythm, sings their song.

    Why would the gov’t put it in the budget? Did they think no one will notice?

    Amazing how corporate interests always trump the public interest in a supposedly democratic society.

    So, can I now listen to Mozart for free? Even change the rhythm/tempo? What a country, eh?

    • S. Keeling says:

      “Why would the gov’t put it in the budget?”

      Because our politicians have been bought and owned by the US’ corporate “Special Interests”? We (Canada) used to walk our own way, having a healthy suspicion and distrust of the US and its odd ways. No longer. We’re being sold out by our own elected representatives. The US may as well get it over with and annex Canada.

      The “dumbth” is deafening.

  5. Anyone remember how James Moore said, essentially, that he was going to legalize ripping music and movies? (“What we are all already doing anyway”- what else could he have meant?)
    Anyway, I haven’t paid for content in twenty years, nor has anyone I know. I’ve even stopped paying for the “stupid tube”, (what a relief that was! I should have done it SO much earlier!)
    Thanks for keeping us up to date on our lying, thieving leaders, sir, but copyright has really gone the way of the 8-track tape!

    • S. Keeling says:

      You and I are twins in spirit, but I may be a bit more militant about it. I don’t infringe copyrighted works (aka. “pirate”). I advocate boycotting them. If I buy a DVD, it’s second hand as from a pawn store. They’re not making a penny on royalties from me. I frequent libraries, not bookstores. Rightsholders aren’t getting a plugged nickel from me ever again, nor will I bother caring about the crap they release. They’re not worth the price, and I’m not talking about money there. I want them to dry up and blow away like dust on the wind.

  6. Apparently Henderson has absolutely no idea what the definition of words mean.

    Of *COURSE* it’s in the public interest, that’s why it’s called *PUBLIC* domain… That means that it belongs to the *PUBLIC*… which by its very definition is in the public’s interest.

    In fact, the only real interest that works entering public domain after a period of time doesn’t serve is the interest of agencies that want to control those works for even longer periods.

    Suggesting that private agencies controlling those works are more in the public’s interest than if those works belonged to the public is like saying that receiving a paycheque for work performed isn’t in an employee’s interest, since he may not use the money wisely.

    *facepalm*

    • S. Keeling says:

      “Apparently Henderson has absolutely no idea what the definition of words mean.”

      Oh, yes he does. Your mistake is assuming he’s speaking English when he’s not. He’s using “Newspeak”; the same words as English, but their meaning is the opposite of the English definition.

  7. It’s a perfectly reasonable argument on their part, so long as you remember that they don’t view things outside their top levels as sentient, let alone as people.

  8. Mike Roprocessor says:

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

    Read more at http://www.snopes.com/music/songs/birthday.asp#hHzjYGpWDOgCOESU.99

    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.

    • S. Keeling says:

      This is very similar to Disney’s locking up of fairy tales. The Brothers Grimm should be incensed by this outright theft from their generations of admirers.

  9. Mario Völker says:

    Summary: Recording industry confuses “their interests” with “public interests”

  10. Maybe they are afraid that someone is going to think copyright in a recording should be the lesser of any relevant copyrights, so the lyrics may be under copyright, and the composition may be under copyright, but *as fixed in the recording* it’s public domain. That means you can copy the song and use it in samples all you want, but you’re not allowed to jot down the lyrics and publish tose separately, or write down the notes and chords and publish those.

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