Canadian Government Blindsides Canadian’s With Copyright Term Extension

The Canadian Liberals appear to have buried a copyright term extension in their budget. It’s going to life plus 70 years.

For decades, there has been little to no evidence to suggest that copyright term extensions would actually benefit society. However, governments from around the world have continued to extend the term for copyright anyway. It’s a testament on the power of lobbying. Cory Doctorow once explained that whenever Mickey Mouse got close to entering the public domain, Hollywood would engage in massive amounts of lobbying to make sure works like ones featuring Mickey Mouse never enters into the public domain.

While the growing consensus is that copyright terms are far too long, it seems that governments have little interest in listening to the economics behind copyright – only listening to what lobbyists have to say. After that the government seems to look to the public and just say, “deal with it”.

One very well used line by the corporate elite is to say that extending copyright terms need to be extended because it will keep up with “international norms” or “international standards”. This, of course, is a myth. The international norm for copyright terms is life plus 50 years. This is per the Berne Convention. Of course, look around at different countries. At its shortest, it seems that copyright term manages to make it all the way down to the Berne Convention of life plus 50 years with only the rarest of exceptions going shorter than that. Other countries go even higher with some countries going to life plus 70 years and even to the extreme of life plus 100 years (Mexico).

Some record label executives drag out the most comical defences for why copyright terms need to keep extending beyond the life of the artist. Some argue that the artists grand children need to make a little bit off of the work in question. The obvious retort to that is, of course, “get a job”. Of course, everyone knows that it’s largely the record labels that continue to make truckloads of money off of the artists work. Sometimes, the artists themselves barely receive scraps from the sale of records (a big reason why so many go on live tours in the first place).

Now, the question is, why is Canada extending copyright terms now? A number of observers are pointing to the USMCA agreement negotiated back in 2019. The idea is that Canad had no choice but to extend copyright terms. This, however, would be news to us because when we were reporting on the trade agreements, we made the interesting note that Canada may not have needed to extend copyright term to life plus 70 years. At the time, the Canadian government was trying to buy time to consult with stakeholders and the public about the possibility of copyright term extension and how to handle it.

Of course, all this time, we were trying to keep an ear out for the consultations but never heard anything. This raised the possibility that the issue would be quietly dropped and Canadians can move on from such a terrible policy. Now, we are learning that the Canadian government seemingly moved unilaterally to extend copyright terms. To our knowledge, there was no consultation with the public and no discussion about how to move forward with copyright laws. Indeed, a lot of attention over the years was soaked up by much larger stories such as COVID-19, Putin’s war on Ukraine, the temper tantrum of people claiming to be truckers, Bill C-11, and, more recently, Bill C-18 to name a few issues. So, a lot has happened between then and now.

As a result, Canada didn’t even seem prepared, nor ready, to even begin contemplating copyright term extension any time soon. So, when the budget was tabled, it didn’t look like something that was even related to anything we talk about here on Freezenet. However, as Michael Geist spotted, buried in the back of the budget is a note about copyright term extension. From Annex 3 of Budget 2022:

Amendments to the Copyright Act

In Budget 2022, the government proposes to introduce amendments to the Copyright Act to extend the general term of copyright protection from 50 to 70 years after the life of the author as agreed under the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement. The government is committed to ensuring that the Copyright Act protects all creators and copyright holders. As such, the government will also work to ensure a sustainable educational publishing industry, including fair remuneration for creators and copyright holders, as well as a modern and innovative marketplace that can efficiently serve copyright users.

For one, this is completely out of the blue. For another, what does this even have to do with the Federal budget in the first place? As far as we can tell, absolutely nothing.

At best, the idea that copyright term extension is supposed to help bring fairness for creators and copyright holders is quite dubious. If this was really about trying to make sure creators get fair remuneration, then what good does it do when that remuneration happens long after they are dead in the first place? After all, what we are talking about is a copyright term that goes all the way up to 70 years after the death of the content creator.

Another problem with this is the fact that this also harms any potential consultation that government could have possibly had in the future as well. The government has already made a decision on what it plans on doing and is seemingly on the same trajectory with what happened early on in the online harms consultation where it was up to everyone else to point out what a disaster it all is. With the government seemingly taking the position that any consultation’s purpose is to agree with everything they say, I generally use the term “fraudsultation” because it’s a fraud to call it a “consultation” in the first place.

To be sure, there are numerous reasons to point to as to why extending copyright terms is bad. A big one revolves around the whole point of copyright in the first place. Copyright grants a temporary monopoly on a work to the person who affixed that work in any way. The whole idea is that the person who created that work can make money for a temporary period of time, thus incentivizing that person to create new works. Of course, a key phrase in all of that is “temporary”. After a work has existed for the length of copyright, that copyright expires and enter what is known as the “Public Domain”. That work is no longer protected.

The Public Domain is, of course, very important for creatives, researchers, and the general public. Creative people can then go into the public domain and build off of the works of the past to create new works into the future. This helps to recycle creativity and increases the health and well-being of society.

So, the problem is that when copyright term is extended, it locks away that creativity – that culture – from the public and the Public Domain. In this case, such an extension locks that content away for another 20 years. The impacts are quite severe. New works struggle to be made while the old works simply linger around, frustrating the process of creating new works. The economy suffers because that work cannot be used without proper licensing. What’s more is that archiving and history suffers because that work continues to be locked away under the stringent regime of copyright. This all because big multinational corporations want to hoard culture under the idea that it will keep making them profits.

Another reason is that endlessly extending copyright laws raises the prices of goods in the first place. This can help contribute to inflation, widen the disparity between the rich and the poor, hamstrings innovation, and a whole lot more.

So, the way that this copyright term extension was introduced is an effort to try and hide this. It’s basically an admission that the Liberals know its bad policy, but have decided to move ahead with it anyway. Thus proving that lobbyists control the policy direction of the government to the detriment of the people. What’s more is that this is intended to limit public feedback as well.

By shoehorning copyright term extension into a must pass budget, it blocks debate even for Members of Parliament as well. The Liberals don’t want anyone to talk about this policy decision. It’s a very American style of law-making and this sort of activity happens in US politics a lot. Examples include putting the CASE Act into the NDAA in 2020, or the indefinite detention of American citizens that briefly became law in an earlier must-pass NDAA bill. In fact, this kind of lawmaking became a gag on the Simpsons at one point. Seeing this happening in Canada on the subject of copyright is incredibly distressing.

The Liberals war on the Internet was at least expected. It was long promised they wanted to destroy the lives of digital first creators with their Broadcasting Act reform, smashing all semblance of balance with the link tax, and destroy independent websites with the online harms debate. It’s even worse when the Liberal party works so hard to completely bury something this important and just blindside Canadian’s like this. Because of the way it is being handled, it looks like the suffering brought on by overly long copyright terms is going to get worse without a shred of honesty.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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