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.
Read more ›
The government’s decision to extend the term of copyright for sound recordings in the budget may have taken most copyright observers by surprise, but not the music industry. I’ve posted earlier on their extensive lobbying efforts on the issue and how the extension will reduce competition, increase costs for consumers, and harm access to Canadian Heritage. The record of lobbyist meetings gives a hint of the reasons behind the extension, but a letter sent by Prime Minister Stephen Harper that I recently obtained suggests that it all it took was a letter from Music Canada President Graham Henderson to the Prime Minister.
The Harper letter was sent on April 21, 2015, the day the budget was tabled. It states:
Thank you for your recent letter regarding the copyright term for sound recordings. I have reviewed this material carefully, and share your view that the current term of copyright protection for sound recordings falls short of what is required to protect artists and ensure they are fairly compensated for their work.
Please know that, as announced today in Budget 2015, our Government will extend copyright protection for sound recordings from 50 to 70 years. The extension will be incorporated into the Budget Implementation Act, and will be in effect immediately upon passage of the legislation.
Read more ›
CMRRA, the Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency, recently wrote to the Toronto Star and the Hill Times to respond to one of my columns which focused on the lobbying and denial of licensing effort to stop cheaper public domain recordings from entering the Canadian market. The column reported that CMRRA had issued a “pay as you press” licence for the recordings to ensure that creators were paid for the works still in copyright. CMRRA was later ordered to stop issuing the licence.
CMRRA writes that the column’s statement that record labels ordered the denial of licences is “patently false”. Dig deeper into the letter and it becomes clear that CMRRA confirms that it denied the licence, but takes issue with the claim that it was record labels that ordered it to do so. In the case of the Beatles recordings, it was Sony/ATV, which is jointly owned by Sony and the Michael Jackson Estate that ordered the denial of licence. Sony also owns one of the world’s largest record labels.
Read more ›
The government yesterday tabled its budget implementation bill (Bill C-59), which includes provisions to extend the term of copyright for sound recordings and performances. The extension adds 20 years to the term (to 70 years). It also caps the term at 100 years after the first fixation of the sound recording or performance. The change is not retroactive, so sound recordings currently in the public domain will stay there. The government’s unexpected decision to extend the term of copyright for sound recordings and performances will not only cost consumers by reducing competition and stop cheaper, legal music alternatives from coming to the market – but it will also reduce access to Canada’s music heritage.
This is the inescapable conclusion based on studies elsewhere, which find that longer copyright terms discourage re-issuing older releases, which often means that the musical heritage is lost. For example, Tim Brooks conducted a detailed study in 2005 on how copyright law affects reissues of historic recordings. He concluded that longer copyright terms significantly reduce public access. First, he examined the data in the United States, which at the time had the longest term of protection:
Read more ›
My recent posts on the government’s surprise budget announcement that it plans to extend the term of copyright protection for sound recordings generated considerable private feedback, with several industry sources suggesting that the change is not quite what it seems. In fact, despite painting the reform as an effort to protect the rights of artists, foreign record companies have been primarily concerned with eliminating new competitors who offer cheaper, legal public domain recordings of popular artists such as the Beatles, Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, and the Rolling Stones.
From a consumer perspective, there is little doubt that the change will lead to higher prices for music. Multiple studies on copyright term extension for sound recordings have concluded that public domain recordings encourage competition between release companies and drive down the price for consumers. The songwriters are paid either way, but the consumers win with more choice and lower priced music.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that while some artists have lent support to the government’s proposed changes, the bigger story is what has been happening behind the scenes. As new public domain-based recordings began to appear at major Canadian retailers, foreign record labels adopted a two-pronged strategy: intense lobbying for legislative changes to lock down recordings for decades and blocking royalty payments to copyright owners to keep the new competitors out of the market.
Read more ›