Earlier this year, I wrote about the secret campaign by major record labels and publishers to stop the release of public domain recordings, most notably Beatles records that outsold the offerings from major label records at retail giant Wal-Mart. The campaign included extensive lobbying for an extension in the term of copyright for sound recordings. The government included the extension in the April 2015 budget, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper writing personally to the Graham Henderson of Music Canada to inform him of the change. The reforms were a gift to the recording industry, with the result that Canadian consumers now face higher prices and less choice.
Stargrove Entertainment, the company behind the public domain Beatles releases, has found that the industry is still blocking attempts to bring works in the public domain to market. As a result, this week it filed a complaint with the Canadian Competition Tribunal, claiming that major record labels such as Universal Music and Sony Music, music publishers, and CMRRA are violating Canadian competition law by refusing to deal, engaging in illegal price maintenance, and exclusive dealing. The company is seeking an order requiring the companies to provide a mechanical licence so that it can continue to produce and sell public domain records. The complaint (CT-2015-009) should be posted on the Tribunal site shortly.
The complaint tells a fascinating behind-the-scenes tale, with the recording industry doing everything in its powers – including posting false reviews and pressuring distributors – to stop the sale of competing records. The complaint notably identifies Universal Music Canada as a key player in the alleged activities, including former President Randy Lennox, who last week jumped to Bell Media.
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As the negotiations on the Trans Pacific Partnership continue in Hawaii, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has published a guest post I wrote on the implications of copyright term extension for Canada. The EFF has also launched a campaign urging Canadians to speak out on the issue. With Prime Minister Harper stating today that Canada “cannot be left out” of the TPP, it seems increasingly likely that the government will cave on copyright term extension in order to be part of the TPP.
The post states:
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The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a proposed trade agreement that encompasses nearly 40 per cent of world GDP, heads to Hawaii later this month for ministerial-level negotiations. According to media reports, this may be the final round of talks, with countries expected to address the remaining contentious issues with their “best offers” in the hope that an agreement can be reached. Canadian coverage of the TPP has centred primarily on U.S. demands for changes to longstanding agricultural market safeguards.
With a national election a few months away, my weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes the prospect of overhauling some of Canada’s biggest business sectors has politicians from all parties waffling on the agreement. Canadian International Trade Minister Ed Fast, who will lead the Canadian delegation, maintains that the government has not agreed to dismantle supply management protections and that it will only enter into an agreement if the deal is in the best interests of the country. The opposition parties are similarly hesitant to stake out positions on key issues, noting that they cannot judge the TPP until it is concluded and publicly released.
While the agricultural issues may dominate debate, it is only one unresolved issue of many. Indeed, the concerns associated with the agreement go far beyond the supply of products such as milk and chickens.
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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.
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The government’s decision to extend the term of copyright for sound recordings to 70 years appears set to pass through the Standing Committee on Finance with practically no debate or analysis. The committee will conduct its clause-by-clause review later today and there is no reason to believe that any changes will be made to the copyright provisions. The committee has conducted extremely limited hearings with only one witness invited to discuss the copyright extension: Graham Henderson, the President of Music Canada (formerly the Canadian Recording Industry Association).
Given the previously released personal letter from Prime Minister Stephen Harper to Henderson on the day of the budget confirming the copyright extension, along with the extensive lobbying on the issue by his organization, it comes as little surprise to find that Henderson was the sole witness invited to appear on the issue as the entire policy change has been driven by record industry lobbying. Yet as Henderson invoked Paul Anka – an accomplished songwriter who undoubtedly generates more revenue from his works that will remain under copyright for many more decades than from sound recordings – the committee heard only press release style comments on the benefits of the change with background documents that cited no specific studies nor hard data about the impact of the reforms.
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