The inclusion of copyright term extension in Budget 2022 – a commitment to implement was buried in an annex to the budget – will cause enormous harm to access to Canadian culture and history for a generation. My previous posts in the series examined the incredible array of authors and political figures that helped shape Canada for decades who will have their works locked out of the public domain. The response from supporters of the policy is typically to ignore the economic evidence and reality that copyright already protects works for 50 years *after* the death of the creator, by relying on claims that term extension will benefit creators.
Yet consider the comments of Bryan Adams, one of Canada’s best known artists. In a 2018 submission to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, Adams foresaw the likelihood of term extension and issued a warning:
Canada is now more or less duty-bound to increase copyright protection by 20 years, to “life + 70”. Extending the duration of copyright essentially enriches large firms of intermediaries. It does not to put money in the pockets of most creators.
Economists argue that copyright already lasts too long. Canada should respect its treaty obligations. However, unless Parliament intends copyright to be a law for distributors and not creators and wishes that the rhetoric about creators merely help intermediaries to gain strong exploitation rights with little or no benefit for creators, it should do something to ensure that more of the benefits from copyright extension flow to creators.
Adams raised two key concerns. First, he noted that copyright term extension provides little or no benefit to creators, who will have died decades before the extended protection kicks in. Second, Adams rightly distinguished between creators and intermediaries, which presumably include music labels, publishers, distributors, and copyright collectives. It is those intermediaries – not individual creators – who have persistently lobbied for copyright term extension.
The best approach for the government to address these concerns is the implementation of a registration requirement. Registration would allow rights holders that want the extension to get it, while ensuring that many other works enter the public domain at the international standard of life plus 50 years. By providing for life plus 50 and the option for an additional 20 years, Canadian law would be consistent with Berne Convention formalities requirements and with its trade treaty obligations.