TPP’s Other Copyright Term Extension: Protection of Sound Recordings Would Nearly Double in Duration

Europe has been embroiled in a controversy over the copyright term of sound recordings for the past few years. While the law provided protection for a 50 year term, major record labels argued for an extended term to generate more profits from older recordings. Proposals to extend the term in the UK and Europe were widely panned as independent studies found that benefiting a few record labels would come at an enormous public cost (see here or here). For example, the UK Gowers Review of Intellectual Property concluded:

Economic evidence indicates that the length of protection for copyright works already far exceeds the incentives required to invest in new works. Boldrin and Levine estimate that the optimal length of copyright is at most seven years. Posner and Landes, eminent legal economists in the field, argue that the extra incentives to create as a result of term extension are likely to be very small beyond a term of 25 years. Furthermore, it is not clear that extending term from 50 years to 70 or 95 years would remedy the unequal treatment of performers and producers from composers, who benefit from life plus 70 years protection. This is because it is not clear that extension of term would benefit musicians and performers very much in practice. The CIPIL report that the Review commissioned states that: “most people seem to assume that any extended term would go to record companies rather than performers: either because the record company already owns the copyright or because the performer will, as a standard term of a recording agreement, have purported to assign any extended term that might be created to the copyright holder”.

Despite the evidence, the term of sound recordings was extended in the UK last year. Canada has thus far been spared a lengthy debate over the issue since a similar extension clearly holds little benefit to Canadians with the overwhelming majority of incremental revenues going to U.S. record labels.

Bill C-11 includes a provision on copyright term for sound recordings that sets the term at 50 years from publication (the rules are complicated by questions of whether and when the performance is “fixed”, but the term for most sound recordings will be 50 years). According to the leaked draft of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, the term of protection would be massively increased over the Bill C-11 approach, with a 95 year copyright term the typical standard. For most sound recordings, this would result in nearly doubling the term of protection. Sound recordings from the 1960s that are scheduled to come into the public domain over the next few years would remain subject to copyright protection until 2055 and beyond. The extension would result in a huge wealth transfer from Canadians and mean that millions would never see the sound recordings from the 1960 and 1970s enter the public domain in their lifetimes.

Once again, now is the opportunity to help preserve the public domain in Canada by speaking out against TPP copyright provisions that would extend the term of copyright for both written works and sound recordings. The consultation is open until February 14, 2012. All it takes a single email with your name, address, and comments on the issue. The email can be sent to Alternatively, submissions can be sent by fax (613-944-3489) or mail (Trade Negotiations Consultations (TPP), Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, Trade Policy and Negotiations Division II (TPW), Lester B. Pearson Building, 125 Sussex Drive, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0G2).


  1. Legal question
    The specific protection for sound recordings is often mentioned, but at the same time Big Content says that the recording might be protected for X years, but the lyrics are copyrighted for Y, where Y is significantly larger than X.

    So what trumps what?

    Do lyrics have life + 50, but lyrics *as fixed in the recording* only have 50? If not, what good is the specific rule for sound recordings if they are trumped by lyrics or the “interpretation” of the musician of published musical scores (even for instance, ones published in the 1600s)?

  2. *Choke* 95 YEARS!
    If that number had been in effect for the past century, audio recordings from *World War I* would still be under copyright. Every song from Prohibition and the Depression would still be under someone’s control. The thought chills me, and the thought that someone could still be charging money for music from the Vietnam War era in 2050 is even more chilling.

    Also, could someone shoot the genius who picked 95 years to trigger the same “it’s less than 100” logic fault in people’s brains that $xx.95 prices do?

  3. This just points to a larger problem as a whole. Content holders want indefinite copyright and the death of the public domain…period, and they will lobby until they get it, or until the copyright term is so long as to be utterly useless, such as 95 years and potentially well beyond that for books. They’ve been bitter about the public domain since it was instituted at the start of the 18th century and have been lobbying for over 300 years, gradually making it longer and longer.

    The big difference these days is that now they have the money and access to buy off the right people. I fully expect to see a completely non-functioning public domain within 20 years.