Imagine if people paying mortgages had to wait to own their home until they’d been dead for 25 years.
That’s what Canadian music icon Bryan Adams said is the case for artists and creators in this country who cannot get the copyright back on their works after they sign contracts with publishers and record firms, and he wants the government to change the rules.
“I couldn’t understand why someone would even want to create something that was so difficult for authors and creators,” Adams said during his appearance before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.
“Who would think up, 25 years after you die, you get to own your house?”
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Under Canada’s Copyright Act, creators who give the copyright to their work to a publishing house or record company, for example, cannot get it back until after they are long dead.
That’s in contrast to countries like the United States, which allow copyright to revert back to the creator after 35 years from when the creator asks for it.
Since artists sign away their copyright generally as young debuts, they are not in a position to push back against the record companies that have those terms reflected in their contracts, which Adams said is not fair and allows the publishers to continue exploiting the gains to be made from a piece of work long after they have recouped their initial cost of publishing the novel or giving a new singer an advance.
“Twenty-five years is plenty of time for copyright to be exploited,” he said, noting artists already have significant challenges in becoming financially self-sustaining and changing that one rule could essentially subsidize Canadian artists without any cost to the public.
“Authors could see a further financial benefit from their work in their lifetime … this is the single, probably most efficient subsidy to Canadian creators with no additional cost to the taxpayers at all.”
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Adams, who is due to release his next record in January, said any change to the rules now would likely not give him any significant benefit.
Instead, he said it would help those who are just starting out now.
“If a change did happen it would benefit me somewhat but it would mostly benefit the younger generation,” he said.
Daniel Gervais, a Canadian lawyer who works as director of the intellectual property program at the Vanderbilt Law School in Nashville, also spoke in support of Adams’ proposal at the committee.
He said that as the economy shifts increasingly towards knowledge creation and towards reliance on automation for creating material goods, the government needs to reassess how it can treat creators more fairly to encourage more people to continue writing and creating music and other intellectual properties.
“The question that is raised by Bryan and me today is how long is the reasonable period of commercial exploitation that is necessary to allow a commercial producer or publisher to recoup its investment?” he told MPs.
“It is time to re-balance this relationship.”
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