Last week, the government took another step toward copyright term extension in Canada, inserting extension provisions within Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s Budget Implementation Act bill. Despite recommendations from its own copyright review, students, teachers, librarians, and copyright experts to include a registration requirement for the additional 20 years of protection, the government chose to extend term without including protection to mitigate against the harms.
Lucie Guibault is an internationally renowned expert on international copyright law, a Professor of Law and Associate Dean at Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University, and the Associate Director of the school’s Law and Technology Institute. Days before the release of the bill, she joined the Law Bytes podcast for a discussion on copyright term extension, its implications and the government’s implementation options.
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The Canadian government plans to extend the term of copyright from the international standard of life of the author plus 50 years to life plus 70 years without mitigation measures that would have reduced the harms and burden of the extension. The Budget Implementation Act, a 443 page bill that adopts the omnibus approach the government had pledged to reject, was posted late yesterday by Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s department and could be tabled in the House of Commons as early as today. Page 328 of the bill features the shoehorned amendments to the Copyright Act, including an extension of the term of copyright. While the government is not making the change retroactive (meaning works currently in the public domain stay there), no one seriously expected that to happen. What many had hoped – based on the government’s own committee recommendations and copyright consultation – was to introduce mitigation measures to reduce the economic cost and cultural harm that comes from term extension. Instead, Freeland, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Innovation, Science and Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne, and Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez have chosen to reject the recommendations of students, teachers, universities, librarians, IP experts, and their own Justice Minister.
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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:
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The decision to agree to a copyright term 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 negative impact on access to Canadian culture and history for a generation. My first post examining the cost focused on some of Canada’s most decorated authors, whose works will be locked out of the public domain for a generation.
The negative impact of term extension on access to Canada’s history is equally damaging. Historians will lose public domain access to the works and papers some of Canada’s most notable leaders and figures of modern times, including leading Prime Ministers, Premiers, First Nations leaders, and Supreme Court justices. They include:
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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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