The government yesterday tabled its budget implementation bill (Bill C-59), which includes provisions to extend the term of copyright for sound recordings and performances. The extension adds 20 years to the term (to 70 years). It also caps the term at 100 years after the first fixation of the sound recording or performance. The change is not retroactive, so sound recordings currently in the public domain will stay there. The government’s unexpected decision to extend the term of copyright for sound recordings and performances will not only cost consumers by reducing competition and stop cheaper, legal music alternatives from coming to the market – but it will also reduce access to Canada’s music heritage.
This is the inescapable conclusion based on studies elsewhere, which find that longer copyright terms discourage re-issuing older releases, which often means that the musical heritage is lost. For example, Tim Brooks conducted a detailed study in 2005 on how copyright law affects reissues of historic recordings. He concluded that longer copyright terms significantly reduce public access. First, he examined the data in the United States, which at the time had the longest term of protection:
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Bill C-51, the anti-terrorism bill, passed third reading in the House of Commons last night as Conservative and Liberal MPs voted in favour of the bill, leaving only the NDP and Green opposed. It now heads to the Senate, which has already conducted most of its hearings on the bill. Those hearings – which have included Canadian Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien – have been better than the embarrassing Public Safety and National Security review (hearing by the numbers, witnesses, and clause-by-clause review), yet the outcome is almost sure to be the same. Bill C-51 is on a legislative fast track and Conservative Senators are incredibly unlikely to require amendments that would send the bill back to the House.
As debate on Bill C-51 wound down, Press Progress points out that Conservative MP Laurie Hawn took the time to question the values of leading Canadian technology companies such as Shopify and Hootsuite. The CEOs of those companies, along many others, dared to sign a public letter calling on the government to go back to the drawing board on the bill. The letter highlights concerns with website takedowns, new CSIS powers, and data security issues.
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The CRTC released it much anticipated decision on the wholesale wireless industry yesterday, painting the decision as fostering “sustainable competition, innovation and investment in the wireless services market.” The ruling generated supportive comments from consumer groups, community groups, new entrants such as Wind Mobile, and business analysts who thought that the CRTC might go further. The regulated wholesale roaming rates has attracted the lion share of attention, but the bigger story is what the Commission did not do. Indeed, given the CRTC’s finding on the competitiveness of the Canadian wireless industry, it should have done more to address the issue. Instead, it adopted a regulatory approach that suggests it thinks it knows the right formula for more competition and it has placed its bet primarily on a fourth national wireless player rather than on an environment that facilitates as much new competition as the market can support.
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My recent posts on the government’s surprise budget announcement that it plans to extend the term of copyright protection for sound recordings generated considerable private feedback, with several industry sources suggesting that the change is not quite what it seems. In fact, despite painting the reform as an effort to protect the rights of artists, foreign record companies have been primarily concerned with eliminating new competitors who offer cheaper, legal public domain recordings of popular artists such as the Beatles, Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, and the Rolling Stones.
From a consumer perspective, there is little doubt that the change will lead to higher prices for music. Multiple studies on copyright term extension for sound recordings have concluded that public domain recordings encourage competition between release companies and drive down the price for consumers. The songwriters are paid either way, but the consumers win with more choice and lower priced music.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that while some artists have lent support to the government’s proposed changes, the bigger story is what has been happening behind the scenes. As new public domain-based recordings began to appear at major Canadian retailers, foreign record labels adopted a two-pronged strategy: intense lobbying for legislative changes to lock down recordings for decades and blocking royalty payments to copyright owners to keep the new competitors out of the market.
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Appeared in the Toronto Star on May 2, 2015 as Behind the Recording Industry’s Latest Campaign Last week’s column on the government’s surprise budget announcement that it plans to extend the term of copyright protection for sound recordings generated considerable private feedback, with several industry sources suggesting that the change […]
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