Canada may stop creating great musical acts like Arcade Fire or Joni Mitchell if the country doesn’t extend copyright terms, rocker Randy Bachman says.
His comments have already come in for criticism, with one copyright expert calling them “absurd.”
In the opening paragraph of his column in the Globe and Mail, Bachman lists off a number of renowned Canadian musicians including Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Arcade Fire and Glenn Gould.
“Imagine this great Canadian music was never created,” the Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive alumnus writes. “That sad day might be not far off if we don’t smarten up and put systems in place to better support those who create music.”
As part of its latest budget, the Harper government extended copyright terms for sound recordings to 70 years, from the previous 50 years. Bachman, echoing the calls of certain artists’ groups, is calling for that extension to apply to songwriters and composers as well.
The copyright extension in the budget “helps only those who performed on the recordings,” Bachman writes. “The creators’ copyright protection is frozen at the life of the author plus 50 years. This would leave Canada lagging behind most other G20 countries, including the United States, the U.K., and almost all of the European Union.”
Bachman lamented that his work has “better conditions for protection in foreign countries than in Canada — and it is not clear to me why my government is okay with this.”
He concludes by saying society “should pay the creators what they have rightfully earned, so that a middle-class career (at least) can be the reward for solid songwriting skills, and so that they can keep creating — in Canada. Otherwise, Canadian music could stop being made.”
University of Ottawa e-commerce law professor Michael Geist says Bachman’s column “contains some of the most absurd claims about copyright in recent memory.”
In a blog Wednesday, Geist wrote that Bachman’s claim Canadian artists would stop making music “is simply not credible” because, with or without the copyright extension, they are protected for life.
“The reality is that songwriters and composers typically get far more than 70 years since their work is protected for their entire lives plus an additional 50 years,” he wrote.
“In Bachman’s case, 'Takin’ Care of Business' was written in 1973. That means it has already been protected for 42 years. It is entitled to another 50 years after Bachman dies, meaning that it is guaranteed to get at least 92 years of protection and the clock will hopefully continue to run for many more years for the 71 year old Bachman.”
He adds: “Does Bachman seriously believe that there are any Canadian songwriters, composers, or authors who would decide not to write because they receive copyright protection for their entire lives and their heirs get 50 years of protection rather than 70 years?”
Geist notes that while many of Canada’s trading partners have extended copyright for songwriters to the life of the author plus 70 years, the international standard set out by the Berne convention requires the 50 that Canada provides.
Bachman is not alone in his call for copyright extensions for songwriters. The France-based International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers issued a statement this spring expressing its “disappointment” the Harper government had not aligned copyright terms for songwriters with the EU, the U.S. and others.
The life-plus-50-years copyright term in Canada “puts the whole community of creators in Canada, as well as foreigners seeking protection in Canada, at a major disadvantage,” the group said, adding it was “a matter of pure fairness.”
Geist has been very critical of the process by which the federal government extended the copyright term for recordings, arguing it took place without enough public consultation and will lead to higher prices for consumers.
He has published blogs alleging the law was the result of intense lobbying efforts by the music industry.
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