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.
By contrast, other countries spent years studying the issue with careful consideration of both the benefits and the costs to consumers and artists that come from restricting the public domain. This copyright change buried in a budget bill is an embarrassment to a government that in 2012 earned applause for a reform process that was widely viewed as inclusive and comprehensive.
It will make little difference to a change that was apparently ordered by the Prime Minister, but yesterday I submitted a brief to the Finance Committee that points to the increase in consumer costs, the limited benefits to many artists, the competitive implications, and the harm to Canadian cultural heritage. It notes that the government committed to a review of copyright in 2017 as part of its 2012 Copyright Modernization Act. There is no emergency on this issue and the extension should be studied as part of the broader examination of copyright law at that time, rather than including it within a budget bill without public debate and analysis. The brief is being translated and should appear on the Committee site shortly.