The government’s gift to the recording industry wrapped up yesterday as Bill C-59 received royal assent and with it, the term of copyright for sound recordings was extended from 50 to 70 years. I’ve chronicled in detail how the extension of the copyright term without public consultation or discussion hurts Canadian consumers, reduces competition, and is a direct result of record label lobbying (surprise, cost to consumers, limited competition, reduced access to Canadian heritage, lobbying impact).
As an added bonus, groups have started to use the extension to argue that the government should also extend the term of copyright for authors from the current term of life plus an additional 50 years to life plus 70 years. Randy Bachman has an op-ed in the Globe and Mail today calling for a copyright term extension that must be read to be believed. The piece was not only a day late (he calls for the government to extend term in the same budget bill that already received royal assent), but contains some of the most absurd claims about copyright in recent memory.
The piece starts by suggesting that Canadian music may go silent if the government doesn’t extend the term of copyright. Bachman oddly cites as an example Glenn Gould, who died in 1982 and was best known as a performer with relatively few completed compositions. In fact, Gould’s best known works are performances of Bach and Brahms, works that are in the public domain. Obviously, neither Gould’s performance nor the Bach and Brahms works would be affected by Bachman’s proposed term extension.
To ensure that Canadian music doesn’t die, Bachman’s solution is to extend the term of copyright:
In the most recent federal budget, the government proposed to increase the length of copyright protection for sound recordings to 70 years from 50 years to be closer to international standards. This would be great if it also always covered the songwriters and composers who actually wrote the music, but it does not. It helps only those who performed on the recordings. The creators’ copyright protection is frozen at the life of the author plus 50 years. This would leave Canada lagging behind most other G20 countries, including the United States, the U.K., and almost all of the European Union.
Bachman neatly uses “70 years” to suggest that songwriters and composers are somehow mistreated in light of the extension for sound recordings to 70 years. Yet the reality is that songwriters and composers typically get far more than 70 years since their work is protected for their entire lives plus an additional 50 years.
In Bachman’s case, Takin’ Care of Business was written in 1973. That means it has already been protected for 42 years. It is entitled to another 50 years after Bachman dies, meaning that it is guaranteed to get at least 92 years of protection and the clock will hopefully continue to run for many more years for the 71 year old Bachman. Indeed, with the exception of Gould, the artists cited in Bachman’s op-ed (including Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, and Sarah McLachlan) will all have copyright protection on what they’ve written until at least 2065.
Not only does Bachman mislead on the term of protection, but in calling for international standards, he fails to note that the international standard for term of protection as found in the Berne Convention is life of the author plus 50 years (or exactly what Canada already provides).
While that alone would have been quite enough, to quote Bachman, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. His piece concludes by again emphasizing the prospect of no further Canadian music:
Writing music that connects with people and evokes emotion takes work, passion and an unwavering focus, and carries a high risk of failure. Society should pay the creators what they have rightfully earned, so that a middle-class career (at least) can be the reward for solid songwriting skills, and so that they can keep creating – in Canada. Otherwise, Canadian music could stop being made.
Canadian law ensures that songwriters like Bachman maintain copyright protection for their entire lives plus their heirs benefit for another 50 years. It is difficult to see how that protection is insufficient to ensure that Canadian music is made. Does Bachman seriously believe that there are any Canadians songwriters, composers, or authors who would decide not to write because they receive copyright protection for their entire lives and their heirs get 50 years of protection rather than 70 years? Would Gould have completed his composition only if there was an extra 20 years of protection after he died? The claim is simply not credible.
While Bachman has proposed innovative copyright reforms in the past – he was an inaugural member of the Canadian Music Creators Coalition that opposed suing fans and he has supported a proposal for the legalization of file sharing – his support for term extension based on conjuring up implausible claims about the end of music is sad way for an acclaimed musician to celebrate a major lobbying victory that handed record labels millions at the expense of Canadian consumers.