Bryan Adams: Copyright Term Extension Enriches Corporations, Not Creators

Bryan Adams made an appearance at a Canadian copyright hearing. He made the argument that extending copyright terms will only enrich intermediaries, not artists.

There have been many studies on the subject. Digital rights advocates further make the point. Observers also point this out. Now, Bryan Adams is repeating the point: copyright term extensions will not help creators. Instead, it only serves to enrich large corporate interests and intermediaries.

Michael Geist offers some thoughts and an excerpt of the submission:

Despite the attention – the Adams appearance garnered more press than any other copyright hearing all year – the Canadian music industry embarrassingly acted as if it never occurred. Yet Adams is back with a submission to the committee that fleshes out the proposal. Aided by former Copyright Board of Canada general counsel Mario Bouchard, the submission recommends that the Copyright Act be amended to allow creators to terminate all copyright transfers 25 years after the date of transfer.

The submission notably issues a warning on copyright term extension, which was included in the CUSMA deal with the U.S. and Mexico, stating:

Canada is now more or less duty-bound to increase copyright protection by 20 years, to “life + 70”. Extending the duration of copyright essentially enriches large firms of intermediaries. It does not to put money in the pockets of most creators.

Economists argue that copyright already lasts too long. Canada should respect its treaty obligations. However, unless Parliament intends copyright to be a law for distributors and not creators and wishes that the rhetoric about creators merely help intermediaries to gain strong exploitation rights with little or no benefit for creators, it should do something to ensure that more of the benefits from copyright extension flow to creators.

Adams certainly makes multiple sound points on the subject. When copyright expires, it falls into what is known as the public domain. Creators often use the public domain as a way of building off of the past and create content for the future. Unfortunately, every time copyright terms are extended, that locks the content away for another couple of decades (in this case, the extension would lock material away for yet another 20 years).

Because of this problem, creators are left with few choices: be a copyright scofflaw and sample the material anyway, pay exorbitant licensing fees for the material, or simply do without. So, extending copyright terms do nothing to support artists – especially new artists. Often, the original creator of the work has been dead long ago while major record labels or studios continue to reap the benefits of the work continuing to be under copyright (hence “life + 70 years”).

Corporations have argued that extending copyright terms will yield higher economic benefits. Unfortunately for those interests, the research suggests otherwise. In one government study in New Zealand, for instance, the study (PDF) found that the economic costs of copyright term extension outweighed the economic benefits:

The study considered the economic impact for New Zealand of changing the copyright period from 50 to 70 years. It looked separately at books and recorded music, and incorporated a number of data sources to build a picture of the proportion of works under copyright; sales, exports and imports of works; and royalties. Based on this data, Concept Economics estimated the total cost to New Zealand of extending the copyright on existing and all future works, based on estimated future sales. The study found that New Zealand was a net importer of copyright-protected works, and the costs of extending copyright for New Zealand consumers would outweigh the benefits for New Zealand creators who sold their works offshore.

In short, if you import copyrighted material, extending copyright terms will only cost your country money. Of course, there are many other studies that make similar cases, this is just one of a number of examples.

So, it’s understandable that Adams would call for the power to be put back into the hands of creator by fighting against copyright term extension. It’ll be interesting to see how the government ultimately responds to all of this.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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