Copyright has not received much attention during the election campaign, but a recent survey by SOCAN raises questions about support for copyright term extension. The issue is particularly confusing in the case of the NDP, since it opposes the TPP (which would require term extension and keep works out of the public domain for decades) but it seems to be willing to entertain the prospect of copyright term extension. SOCAN asked whether the parties would be willing to extend the term of copyright to life of the author (or composer) plus 70 years. The NDP’s response:
The NDP welcomed the government changes in Budget 2015 to extend the term of copyright for performers. We understand there is now discrepancy between performers and songwriters. The NDP is committed to reviewing the Copyright Act in 2017 as the Act requires. We would look to make these key legislative changes in our first year of mandate. These are among the changes we would be looking into.
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The final Trans Pacific Partnership intellectual property chapter leaked this morning confirming what many had feared. While the Canadian government has focused on issues like dairy and the auto sector, it caved on key copyright issues in the agreement. As a result, works will be locked out of the public domain for decades at a cost to the public of hundreds of millions of dollars. Moreover, the government will “induce” Internet providers to engage in content blocking even where Canadian courts have not ruled on whether the content infringes copyright. As a result (and as expected – this was raised years ago), the government’s “made in Canada” approach to copyright – which it has frequently touted as representing a balanced approach – faces a U.S. demanded overhaul. In fact, even as other countries were able to negotiate phase-in periods on copyright changes, the Canadian negotiators simply caved.
The biggest change is a requirement to extend the term of copyright from life of the author plus 50 years to life plus 70 years. The additional 20 years will keep works out of the public domain for decades. The New Zealand government estimates that this change alone will cost NZ$55 million per year for a country that is one-ninth the size of Canada. Moreover, New Zealand was able to negotiate a delayed implementation of the copyright term provision, with a shorter extension for the first 8 years. It also obtained a clear provision that does not make the change retroactive – anything in the public domain stays there. Malaysia also obtained a delay in the copyright term extension requirement.
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Last month, there were several Canadian media reports on how the work of Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, had entered the public domain. While this was oddly described as a “copyright quirk”, it was no quirk. The term of copyright in Canada is presently life of the author plus an additional 50 years, a term that meets the international standard set by the Berne Convention. The issue of extending the term of copyright was discussed during the 2009 national copyright consultation, but the government wisely decided against it. Further, the European Union initially demanded that Canada extend the term of copyright in the Canada – EU Trade Agreement, but that too was effectively rebuffed.
If new reports out of Japan are correct, however, Canada may have caved to U.S. pressure to extend copyright term. The U.S. extended its term to life plus 70 years in 1998 in response to demands from the Disney Corporation (Mickey was headed to the public domain) and has since pressured other countries to match. NHK reports that a deal on copyright term has been reached within the TPP with countries agreeing to a life plus 70 term. Alongside Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Vietnam (the TPP countries that adhere to the Berne standard), it appears that Canada has dropped its opposition to the change.
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In late December 2009, Wikileaks, the website that publishes secret government information, posted a copy of the draft intellectual property chapter of the Canada – European Trade Agreement (CETA). The CETA deal was still years from completion, but the leaked document revealed that the European Union envisioned using the agreement to mandate a massive overhaul of Canadian law.
The leak generated concern among many copyright watchers, but when a German television station leaked the final text of the agreement last week, it contained rules that largely reflect a “made-in-Canada” approach. Why the near-complete reversal in approach on one of the most contentious aspects of a 500 page treaty?
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes the starting point for copyright in CETA as reflected in 2009 leaked document was typical of European demands in its trade agreements. It wanted Canada to extend the term of copyright to life of the author plus 70 years (Canada is currently at the international standard of life plus 50 years), adopt tough new rules for Internet provider liability, create criminal sanctions for some copyright infringement, implement new rights for broadcasters and visual artists, introduce strict digital lock rules with minimal exceptions, and beef up enforcement powers. In other words, it was looking for Canada to mirror its approach on copyright.
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Trade agreements have emerged in recent years as one of the federal government’s most frequently touted accomplishments. Having concluded (or nearly concluded) free trade deals with the likes of the European Union and South Korea, senior government ministers such as International Trade Minister Ed Fast and Industry Minister James Moore have held dozens of events and press conferences across the country promoting the trade agenda.
The next major agreement on the government’s docket is the Trans Pacific Partnership, a massive proposed trade deal that includes the United States, Australia, Mexico, Malaysia, Singapore, New Zealand, Vietnam, Japan, Peru, and Chile. While other trade talks occupy a prominent place in the government’s promotional plans, the TPP remains largely hidden from view. Indeed, most Canadians would be surprised to learn that Canada is hosting the latest round of TPP negotiations this week in Ottawa.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) argues the secrecy associated with the TPP – the draft text of the treaty has still not been formally released, the precise location of the Ottawa negotiations has not been disclosed, and even the existence of talks was only confirmed after media leaks – suggests that the Canadian government has something to hide when it comes to the TPP.
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