U.S. Copyright Lobby Takes Aim at Canadian Copyright Term Through Trans-Pacific Partnership

The U.S. copyright lobby, led by the International Intellectual Property Alliance, appeared last week before a U.S. Congressional Committee hearing on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and made it clear that it wants the U.S. to use the trade agreement to force Canada to extend the term of copyright.  Canadian copyright law is currently at life of the author plus 50 years, which meets the international standard found in the Berne Convention. The U.S. extended its copyright term years ago to life of the author plus 70 years under pressure from the Disney Corporation (Mickey Mouse was headed to the public domain) and has since pushed other countries to do the same.

The IIPA says that the TPP should require all members to extend their term of copyright (Japan and New Zealand are also at life plus 50 years), which it claims is needed to “maintain incentives for investment in the conservation and dissemination of older works.” Yet a recent study found the opposite with far more public domain books available commercially than books still subject to copyright.

When the Canadian government conducted a consultation on participation in the TPP, copyright was the top issue raised with many focusing on concerns associated with term extension. As I wrote last year, it is worth noting the many important authors who would be immediately affected since their works are scheduled to become public domain in the 2013 – 2033 period.

The list of Canadian authors whose work would be blocked from entering into the public domain includes:

  • Gabrielle Roy, considered one of the most influential Canadian authors in history. Her book The Tin Flute won multiple awards and laid the foundation for the Quiet Revolution in Quebec in the 1960s.
  • Donald Creighton, widely regarded as one of Canada’s most influential historians, with a major two volume biography on Sir John A. MacDonald that both won Governor General’s awards.
  • Marshall McLuhan, one of the world’s leading media theorists.
  • Gwethalyn Graham, who twice won Governor Genera’s awards and who became the first Canadian to have a novel appear on top of the New York Times best seller list.
  • Hubert Aquin, a leading Quebec author, whose novel Next Episode, is regarded as a classic of Canadian literature.
  • Ethel Wilson, regarded as one of the leading authors from B.C. The province’s top fiction award is named after her.
  • E.J. Pratt, regarded as Canada’s foremost poet of the first half of the 20th century.
  • Susan Wood, an award winning science fiction author, who received three Hugo awards.
  • Winifred Bambrick, who won the Governor General’s Award for fiction in 1946.
  • Winthrop Pickard Bell, one of Nova Scotia’s leading historians.
  • Thomas Costain, who was a best selling author of historical novels.
  • Ralph Allen, an award winning journalist, who won wrote several books on Canadian history.
  • Hugh Garner, who won a Governor General’s award for short stories in 1963.
  • Germaine Guèvremont, who won a Governor General’s award for fiction in 1950.
  • A.M. Klein, one of Canada’s best known poets and Governor General award winner.

This list is obviously a tiny fraction of the authors whose works would be prevented from entering the public domain for decades if the U.S. copyright lobby gets their way. Given the potential to make those works more readily accessible to new generations once they enter the public domain, extending the term of copyright as potentially required by the TPP would have a dramatic negative effect on access to Canadian literature and history. Looking ahead, the likes of Margaret Laurence and Robertson Davies would be similarly delayed for 20 years.


  1. Copyright Length
    Copyright should be 30 years from the date of release of the item- movies, music, books, etc., regardless of whether the creator is living or not. If the creator dies, so does the copyright. If a creator, or creative group, has not made the money invested in a creative endeavour within 30 years of the work being released they probably never will.

  2. Use the original copyright terms
    The US constitution originally protected works for 14 years with one opportunity to for renewal for an additional 14 years. The renewal was not automatic and the copyright holder had to file with the copyright office. This applied in a time when publishing and promoting a novel could take years and people mailed letters to each other to communicate. Compare that to our era of instantaneous messaging, digital publishing, and crowd-sourcing, even 14 years seems long. The lobbyist need to answer some hand questions, such as how exactly does extending copyright retroactively, promote the production of works that were published 70 years ago? We need to resist the constant demands for copyright extensions, and call it what it is; a copyright monopolist attempt to maximize profits, nothing more.

  3. David Collier-Brown says:

    Registered Designs are also protected
    If I had a famous cartoon character, I’d immediately register that design in my country and my major customers’. Designs have decent protection in many countries, and don’t distort copyright law, which is for books, not mice!


  4. Heritage
    Walt made much use of public domain music in his animated cartoons. Once could argue that public domain helped build his company to where it is today. Besides the financial implications of extending copyright how about the cultural? American cultural heritage runs the risk of being owned by corporations.

  5. I fully support copyright
    It already is, Daryl. I am a writer and photographer, I support copyright. But there is no reason it should extend a day beyond death, let alone 50 years, and certainly not 70. This has no benefit to actual creators, they are dead. It benefits only corporations that live on in perpetuity to rob and plunder us forever.

  6. Mike The Ghost says:

    Eh, and then there are some famous British authors like CS Lewis, who is public domain as of next January.

    @James: Eric Flint’s all for 40 years, no renewal. The original lengths, however, are far more reasonable.

  7. Perhaps the story of the “Mouse & the Lion”, should have been the “Mouse & the Bald Eagle”. After he pulled out that thorn, it seems he has a roaring pal forever.

  8. Just wrote about this
    at my blog:

    Here are a few short excerpts:

    In Canada, the term of copyright is currently life of the author plus 50 years, however it is expected that the term will be extended to 70 years once the Trans Pacific Partnership treaty is formally adopted and enacted as law in Canada.

    One may ask how compensating the unborn heirs and descendants of the author, for several decades post-mortem, motivates one’s creative juices to produce original art or other works. Nevertheless, that is part of the equation in the “balance” between public and private interests.

    For a work already in existence, it is hard to fathom how extending the term of protection would encourage the creation of that work. It is merely adding reward, not spurring new creativity.

    Unlike patents and trade-marks, which have statutorily fixed terms of 20 and 15 years respectively, copyright has this medieval, variable and arbitrary life-based duration of protection.

    In reality, an author’s rights are typically assigned during her or his lifetime to a corporate employer, publisher or distributor, such that there are virtually no valuable rights remaining at the time of death to pass to the heirs and successors. Accordingly, copyright ownership issues are usually governed by the terms of the contracts which the author entered into while alive.

    Suppose an octogenarian musician composes the most popular song ever and dies shortly thereafter. The term of protection is relatively short for his work as compared to the term that a 10 year old composer would receive for the same song, yet they were both apparently motivated, according to “balancing” theory, to compose their respective songs by the lure of the ever-increasing copyright terms after their respective deaths. There may be other similar examples, but it conveniently unveils the “fiction” behind the traditional balancing argument.

    Moreover, most valuable works of copyright (e.g. software, film, music) are owned by corporations, who effectively have immortality under corporate legislation and who would probably prefer perpetual copyright terms from the date of creation, if they could have them, rather than depend on the archaic, arbitrary and discriminatory rule of “life plus X years”.

  9. That’s fine as long as copy rights can’t be sold but only leased and only a natural person can own a copyright so no company/corporation/etc.. can own copyrights.

  10. Pat Drummond says:

    50 years is too long to protect copyright for the heirs of the long-dead creator or the corporate owners (who never die). The crass commercialization of “creative” interests is funny and sad. I would suggest copyright protection of only the author/creator which would die with them.

  11. Chazz Arcturus says:

    I can’t agree, end user. There are certain situations where it would be only appropriate for a corporation or government to hold a copyright. If I wrote an owner’s manual for a model of automobile, I would prefer that the copyright be in the manufacturer’s name just in case the car is a lemon!

  12. GetOutOfMyWallet says:

    damn copyright again, someone need to tell those idiots south of the border to bugger off. I don’t like the thought of a foreign government dictating Canadian law to it’s own ends. Especially not when the exist protection is excessive already. Life plus 50 years kills innovation. Voters should be alarmed by all of that.

  13. Ray Saintonge says:

    The 14-year rule has never been a part of the US Constitution. Given the difficulties of amending the US Constitution, including it would have likely resulted in its still being there.

    Trademarks do not have a time limit. It’s more a question of use it or lose it.

    Corporate copyrights effectively last for 50 years. If the real author becomes known before that 50 years finishes it is treated as that author’s rights, subject to contractual agreements. Heirs’ rights are not completely lost during the 50 years after the author’s death. Reversionary rights kick in after 25 years, and override contracts. Whether the heirs know about this is another matter.

    I don’t mind a term of 30 years from publication going beyond the author’s death. Some authors die young with young families.

  14. TIME to thoroughly complete the sale.
    For those who think copyrights should die with the author.

    “You” write a book, die of an illness 6 months after publication, you have 3 children under the age of 5. The book is a huge success.
    So I ask you all, how long should YOUR children benefit from YOUR work?

    If I were the author, I would welcome the 50 years. 70 years, GREAT!, now my grandkids will benefit also. Why shouldn’t they?
    If I was a famous painter and my family sold one of my paintings 100 years after my death they would receive the full benefit.

    When you think about it, copyright in this case as the author, supports the sale of “ONE THING” piece by piece over an extended time. Its not a car, house or building that can be sold with a signature, it requires TIME to thoroughly complete the sale.

    TIME to thoroughly complete the sale.

    TIME to thoroughly complete the sale.

    TIME to thoroughly complete the sale.

    TIME to thoroughly complete the sale.

    Just saying…

  15. @stew
    “So I ask you all, how long should YOUR children benefit from YOUR work”

    I make copyrighted content for a living, and I gotta say the answer is obviously as long as I’m earning it. They can’t benefit from work I’m not doing… Thats totally wrong.

    “TIME to throughly complete the sale” is plain old bullshit. Authors and other creators sell their shit to the mafiaa right away, who milk it for as long as they possibly can. Thats for the tiny percentage of works that anyone actually makes any money on at all after the creator’s death.

  16. The special treatment for the copyright holders (who are most definately not the creators by the way) has gone way too far. The entitlement they feel that they have is getting absolutely ridiculous. You can’t control what people do forever just because you did it first. They don’t deserve anything close to 150 years of copyright, and thats the reason everyone is rebelling against it, it’s so far out to lunch that it’s lost people’s respect entirely and all they want to do is make it worse, and the means they use is invariably through corruption.

    Just sayin.

  17. a Canadian
    …Mickey should piss in his own backyard…