Wednesday, April 22, 2015

On Canadian Copyright Term Extension – Out of the Mouths of Artists?

Music Canada (which represents mainly the “big three” foreign owned Sony, Universal and Warner record company groups) and which ought to know a thing or two about copyright law has issued an amazing quick and very misleading press release  and assembled an even more amazingly quick list of its quotes on its website and following #Budget2015. Music Canada quotes Canada’s iconic and beloved Leonard Cohen as follows:
Leonard Cohen reinforces the urgency of the problem, "In just a few short years, songs we recorded in the late 1960s will no longer have copyright protection in Canada.  Many of us in our 70's and 80's depend on income from these songs for our livelihood.  We would deeply appreciate any adjustment that would avert a financial disaster in our lives." 
(emphasis added)

The fact is that Canadian law already protects the “songs” that Cohen wrote for the life of the author plus 50 years. So, he and his estate will be earning lots of well-deserved royalties from Suzanne, Hallelujah, Bird on Wire, etc. for a very long time. In cases where there is joint authorship (typically a composer and lyricist),  the term for an estate can be even longer because it lasts for fifty years form the death of the survivor in such case.

The extension of the copyright term announced in yesterday’s budget may possibly put some extra cash in Cohen’s pocket from his performances, but the overwhelming evidence is that this extension will mainly benefit his record companies. And SOCAN will fight hard to ensure that any extra money from this measure does not “derogate” from what it views as its protected share of the copyright “pie” – which is not capable of indefinite growth in size. Another long saga will be in store at the Copyright Board.

SOCAN, which collects royalties for performances of the songs in contrast to the performances and sound recordings, has - to its great credit - gone to great length over the years to protect actual creators – without whom there would be no songs – from giving away or selling their song copyrights for peanuts. They cannot get less than a 50% share. The record companies have tried to erode that sacred principle through cutting back on the artists’ mechanical royalties through controlled composition clauses.

But, if Cohen wrote the words and the music, he should get a 50% share of the SOCAN royalties no matter what deal he may have made with his managers, publishers or record companies. That is, at least, how the system is supposed to work.

Music Canada really ought to know better. If Leonard Cohen actually said the above, someone should have explained things to him. If not, Music Canada has some explaining to do.

The same with Jim Cuddy who says that “The copyright of a creative work should not expire in the lifetime of an author”.   The fact is that this hasn’t been the case in Canada since 1886.

It’s amazing how Music Canada managed to assemble all of these explicit, even if sometimes inaccurate, quotes on such a technical subject matter on such short notice from such often inaccessible artists.  As is normally the case with a “Budget” announcement, we lesser mortals were completely surprised. I think I posted the first tweet on this at 4:40  PM yesterday, right after the #Budget2015 went online.


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