Copyright term extension was rightly resisted by successive Canadian governments for decades because it offers few benefits and raises significant costs. The decision to agree to an extension in the USMCA is harmful policy, made worse by the decision to bury plans for implementation in Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s Budget 2022. As a result, there will be a two decade moratorium on new works entering the public domain, creating an enormous impact on access to Canadian culture and history for a generation. The plan has been described as a tax on consumers given that the new costs for Canadian education could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Further, the policy will create barriers to digitization initiatives that would otherwise increase access to works for all Canadians from coast-to-coast-to-coast.
While there is overwhelming independent academic and economic study on the harms, it is the real world stories that bring the harm arising from the policy to life. Today’s post is the first in a series that highlights just some of the works that were scheduled to enter the public domain in the coming years that will be locked out for a generation. As discussed in this post, the best approach for the government to mitigate against these harms 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.
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The inclusion of copyright term extension in Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s Budget 2022 may have been buried toward the very end of the last annex of the budget on page 274, but the issue has been front and centre for Freeland for many years. Indeed, Freeland has been well aware of the hidden costs arising from term extension since she was first elected in 2015. In her roles as Minister of International Trade, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and now Finance Minister, term extension has arisen repeatedly as she worked first to avoid term extension and later to maintain flexibility if forced into implementing the change.
Having fought to maintain that flexibility, it is now essential to establish a registration requirement, which 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.
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Last week, Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez introduced Bill C-18 – the Online News Act – the second of three planned Internet regulation bills. There is much to unpack about the provisions in the bill including the enormous power granted to the CRTC, the extensive scope of the bill that could cover tweets or LinkedIn posts, the provision that encourages the Internet platforms to dictate how Canadian media organizations spend the money at issue, and the principle that news organizations should be compensated by some entities not only for the use of their work but even for links that refer traffic back to them.
Sue Gardner is the Max Bell School of Public Policy McConnell Professor of Practice for 2021-2022. A journalist who went on to head CBC.ca and later the Wikimedia Foundation (Wikipedia), she is the only Canadian, and the first woman, to have run a global top-5 internet site. She joins the Law Bytes podcast for a conversation about journalism, the Internet platforms, and Bill C-18.
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Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland unveiled Budget 2022 yesterday. While much of the focus was on housing and the environment, buried in Annex 3 at page 274 was a promise to extend the term of copyright from the international standard of life of the author plus 50 years to life plus 70 years. The extension fulfills a commitment in the Canada-US-Mexico Trade Agreement with the specific implementation details presumably to come in several weeks in the Budget Implementation Act. This is both a terrible policy making approach (Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was elected in 2015 in part on a pledge not to use the budget to sneak through legislation this way) and terrible policy that experts have termed a “tax on consumers”. Indeed, term extension was long opposed by successive Canadian governments both Liberal and Conservative for good reason: it creates significant costs with limited to no benefits.
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Bill C-18, the Online News Act, is less than 48 hours old, but the more you examine the bill, the worse it gets. My previous posts unpacked why the general policy is bad for press independence and competition as well as why the bill features a misguided attempt to require payments for links. Yet the bill requires an even deeper look since it goes far beyond “compensating journalists when they use their content” (as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said yesterday in the House of Commons) or even linking to news articles. Rather, the bill requires compensation for facilitating access to news in any way and in any amount.
In doing so, it eviscerates the claim that there is a tangible connection between the requirement to pay for the value of news articles on social media and search platforms (called digital news intermediaries or DNI’s in the bill). Rather, Bill C-18 is a shakedown with requirements to pay for nothing more than listing Canadian media organizations with hyperlinks in a search index, social media post, or possibly even a tweet. At a time when we need the public to access to credible news, Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez believes that large Internet companies that engage in the act of facilitating access to news – not copying, not using, not even directly linking – should pay for doing so.
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