Analog Beatles by Kevin Dooley (CC BY 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/33PwBN

Analog Beatles by Kevin Dooley (CC BY 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/33PwBN

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Is the Great Canadian Copyright Giveaway Really About Some Cheap Beatles Records?

The government’s surprise decision to include copyright term extension for sound recordings and performances in this week’s budget is being painted by the music industry as important for Canadian artists. But sources suggest that the key reason for the change is lobbying from foreign record labels such as Universal Music and Sony Music, who were increasingly concerned with the appearance of public domain records from artists such as the Beatles appearing on store shelves in Canada. As discussed in this post, Canadian copyright law protects the song for the life of the author plus 50 years. However, the sound recording lasts for 50 years. That still provides decades of protection for record companies to profit from the records, but that is apparently not long enough for them.

Earlier this year, a Canadian company called Stargrove Entertainment began selling two Beatles records featuring performances that are in the public domain in Canada. The records were far cheaper than those sold through Universal Music and were picked up by retail giant Walmart, who continues to list the records on their website (Can’t Buy Me Love, Love Me Do). There were additional titles featuring the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and the Beach Boys. Some of the titles are still available for sale through Walmart.

The Stargrove Entertainment records provided Canadian consumers with low-priced alternatives while still ensures that the authors of the songs received the approriate royalties. While the sound recording is in the public domain for these works, the song itself remains subject to copyright. Therefore, the song writers were still paid for every record sold. The difference is that Universal Records was not profiting from the sale. Instead, a small Canadian company was succeeding in selling the records at a lower price to Canadian consumers.

The Stargrove Entertainment records effectively broke the monopoly enjoyed by Universal Music and Sony Music over these popular artists by offering consumers more choice at better prices. After pressure on distributors and retailers failed to stop the sales, the companies began lobbying the government to change the law. Indeed, Music Canada lobbyists met with officials in the Minister of Canadian Heritage’s office in both February and March of this year.  The Harper government’s decision to cave to pressure from a couple of foreign record labels in a matter of months is remarkable. After years of concern that consumers don’t pay for music, there was a Canadian company that was offering consumers lower-priced versions of music with full payments to the songwriters. Yet because foreign record companies were not also profiting, they sought to change the law and stop the sales.

The government characterizes the reforms as good for the Canadian economy, yet the opposite is true. The changes benefit large foreign record labels at the expense of a small Canadian upstart and ensure that consumer prices for music remain high. As a result, the copyright holders in the songs will earn less revenue, the Canadian public domain is harmed, and new Canadian business models based on the public domain are extinguished.

21 Comments

  1. In preparation for 2004, when Elvis’s first recordings turned 50, BMG in the United States successfully lobbied to extend copyright protection on recordings from 50 to 75 years. No prizes for guessing what will happen come 2029. It turns out that for all the talk about the decline of the music industry, those major labels still wield a fair amount of clout.

  2. Pingback: Canadian Lawmakers Suck Too (on Copyright) | FNCLL

  3. Here’s an interesting read on the topic from another perspective.

    Term extension and respect for artists: a reply to Michael Geist:

    http://www.barrysookman.com/2015/04/23/term-extension-and-respect-for-artists-a-reply-to-michael-geist/
    by Barry Sookman

  4. In this age of easy peasy digital reproduction I can’t make heads or tails of copyright. If I want a public domain version of a Virginia Woolf novel I can go to Australia, where a separate Gutenberg site under Aussie law makes it available. It dawned on me a while ago that the Miraculous Young Leader of North Korea could get serious non-nuclear revenge on Sony and anybody else by simply setting up a factory for high quality replication of its products and declare them in North Korea’s public domain. Not only would North Korea bring capitalist publishing to its knees, Pyongyang would become more popular than Gangnam.

    • DriveByCommentor says:

      He could probably do as much damage with a website offering the files run from his nation. Kind of a scary thought actually.

  5. @ Eric L. – you can make countless attempts to discredit anyone that disagrees with you, it won’t change the outcome.
    Posting a link to manic MIke’s website … now that’s a stretch! The guy spins himself in circles.
    The reason I posted this link:
    https://musictechpolicy.wordpress.com/2015/04/22/world-watch-canadian-government-closes-big-techs-back-door-loophole/

    is that it connects the dots and follows the money, if you read it it wouldn’t be me that would be considered the shill.

    Keep up the great work Eric L. the internet would be lost without such a passionate freetard.

    • Devil's Advocate says:

      No need to blame Eric, or anyone else for discrediting you.

      You do a pretty good job discrediting yourself, complete with links to other shills. I only have to wonder if your world has different physical laws to go along with that different reality your people seem to experience.

      • I read your comments on some of the other posts on this blog and was wondering how long it would take you to jump in with another of your nonsensical rants.
        Grow-up ass-wipe

      • You know, I love how virtually the same exact shill/troll appears on Geist’s blog suddenly every time a recently introduced bit of copyright (or similar) legislation comes up (though under different nyms, “Strunk & White”, “Bob”, et al.) .

        Also, they almost always have the same allergy to Techdirt, causing them to namedrop and insult Mike Mansick specifically, and then inevitably these shills trot out the usual “freetard”, “pirate”, “thief”, “freeloader”, etc.

        • Devil's Advocate says:

          You’ve got it.
          Having nothing substantial to offer a conversation, but the will to hurl childish insults, Jay’s just one of those “gifts that keep on giving”.

        • I’m very much pro-copyright, but that doesn’t make me a shill or troll and it certainly doesn’t make me deserving of the derogatory name calling that’s persistent on this blog (or any other.)

          You have every right to your opinion(s) Eric, but you have no right whatsoever to belittle or berate others that disagree with your views.

          I post a link to Barry Sookman’s take on the topic, you attempt to discredit him as nothing more than a “lobbyist”, the guys a great lawyer, whether you agree with his views or not.
          Chris Castle’s piece, well researched, well written, and you attempt to right him off as “A music industry industry lawyer with a history of saying dumb things” according to Mike Mansick, the king of spinning.

          So many keep saying they feel left out of the process and feel they have a right to be part of the debate, but the one sided dialogue people like you insist on promoting I think is counter productive.

          • Devil's Advocate says:

            “…it certainly doesn’t make me deserving of the derogatory name calling .”

            Pot… Kettle.

  6. Another benefit to the industry of extended copyright terms is that it keeps competitive works off the market. Potential re-users of these works have become fearful of copyright infringement, and the inflated penalties that have been advertised. Those re-users mostly do not have the grit to wade through the fine points of copyright law until they find a reasonable justification for what they would like to do. The reality of orphan works is that there is no-one there with the standing to make a claim for copyright infringement. This suits industry just fine. It leaves more room for them to market their own material. It costs them nothing to do nothing about their competitors’ works. An occasional act of trolling on behalf of their competitors is inexpensive; maybe such a plan will extort enough money to pay for itself.

    • Another downfall to the industry of extended copyright terms is that it keeps competitive works on the market. Virtual Potential re-re-users of these works have become delightful of copyright outfringement, and the deflated penalties that have been adblocked. Those re-re-users mostly do not have the grit-wit (ya dumb!!) to wade through the fine points of copyright law until they find a reasonable justification for what they would like to do. I think ‘i.. Drank to much even I can not understand what’s here… The reality of orphan works is that there is no-one there with the standing to make a claim for copyright infringement. So! This suits industry just fine. Not! It leaves more room for them to market their own material. It costs them nothing to do nothing about their competitors’ works. An occasional act of trolling on behalf of their competitors is inexpensive; maybe such a plan will extort enough money to pay for itself. Mo Money! Mo Money!…. There is no structure here Jay Ray… what’s your point… keep on trolling it seems… well I got $22 per hour trolling you on behalf of the anti-anti-copyright… how much do you make?

  7. Pingback: Canadian Copyright Term Extension for Sound Recordings – A Clockwork Luka

  8. btw… if the other site want to hire me: http://www.lobbytroll.com, account Baybay I will do probably do a better job then Jay or Ray… and much cheaper :-)