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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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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The past year has been an incredibly active one for Canadian digital law and policy with legislative battles over Bill C-10, controversial consultations on online harms and copyright, important Supreme Court decisions, new digital taxes, and an emerging trade battle with the United States. For this final Law Bytes podcast of 2021, I go solo without a guest to talk about the most significant trends and developments in Canadian digital policy from the past year and to think a bit about what may lie ahead next year.
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The Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology has released its recommendations for changes to Bill C-4, the bill designed to implement the Canada-US-Mexico Trade Agreement. I appeared before the committee and used this week’s Lawbytes podcast to highlight some of the discussion. The committee had a limited time to study the bill, but arrived at some important recommendations on the copyright and digital policy provisions.
First, it recommended adding a new exception to Canada’s digital lock rules to address concerns in the agriculture sector about the right to repair their equipment. The issue has been gaining momentum around the world as many identify the over-broad restrictions often associated with anti-circumvention laws. The recommendation:
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