Canada Dodges Another Copyright Bullet: No Term Extension from USMCA

On of the concerns about the USMCA is that it includes an extension to copyright terms. Fortunately for Canadians, that isn’t included in the implementation bill.

Throughout the years, the length of copyright terms have been debated. After countless studies and expert opinion, the general consensus for those not paid by major corporate interests is that it makes no economic sense to lengthen copyright terms. In fact, there is a good case to shorten copyright terms. Of course, economic sense doesn’t generally stop lobbyists from pushing for it to keep content long overdue from the public domain locked down for longer.

Back in October of last year, we were covering how the USMCA (United States Mexico Canada Agreement) is a mixed bag on the copyright front. Some good news, but some bad news. One of the big items of focus is how it would force Canada to extend copyright terms from life plus 50 years to life plus 70 years. So, as we saw the implementation bill be tabled, we were looking out for any word on what would come from this. It turns out that Canada is once again dodging a copyright bullet as extension is not part of the implementation bill. From Michael Geist:

Yet the big story is that Section 6 of the Copyright Act, which states that the general term of copyright is life of the author plus 50 years, remains unchanged despite a USMCA requirement of life plus 70 years. Why unchanged?

I am advised that the reason is that the Canadian government negotiated a 2 1/2 year transition period for the USMCA and it intends to use the time to consult with the public on the best way to meet the copyright term obligation. That holds the promise of the making the best of a bad situation given that few (other than the embarrassingly one-sided Heritage committee study) think that extending the term of copyright benefits Canadians.

For example, there has been some thought given to establishing a registration requirement for the additional 20 years. That approach 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 new trade treaty obligations. Copyright registration would not eliminate all the harm to the public domain, but it would mean that only those that desire the extension would take the positive steps to get it, thereby reducing the costs of the USMCA’s unnecessary copyright term extension.

This, of course is an interesting position to make. The idea of having a shortened copyright term and initiating a process for anyone who wants to extend copyright terms for their work. This compromise is certainly among the more sensible ideas that have been floated. Corporate interests would retain their effectively infinite copyright terms while not holding the rest of culture hostage at the same time. It’s certainly better than endlessly ratcheting copyright terms for no reasonable reason.

What will be interesting is to see if the government would hold true to this or just take the one-sided approach tabled last month by the Heritage Ministry. It isn’t exactly uncharted territory with the Canadian government holding consultations, then doing what they originally wanted to do in the first place regardless of where the consensus wound up being.

Either way, Canadians are at least getting a temporary reprieve from extending copyright terms to even more unnecessary extremes. So, it is a good news story for now.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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