On February 11, 2021, the Department of Canadian Heritage announced that it was launching consultations to modify how long copyright protection lasts under the Copyright Act. The goal is to identify accompanying measures to extend the general term of copyright protection by 20 years.
In compliance the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) that came into effect in July 2020, Canada has to initiate a series of reforms to its intellectual property and copyright legislation.
To align the Copyright Act with its trade partners’ policies, Canada therefore needs to extend the term of copyright protection so that it covers content until the 70th year following the creator’s death. The Act currently protects works only until the 50th year after their creator’s death.
According to Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Canadian Heritage, this change will enable Canadian creators to “operate on a level playing field with their international partners.”
Canada is one of the rare G20 countries that limits copyright protection according to what is required under the Berne Convention. The member states of the European Union, together with the United States, offer legal protection for copyrighted works up to 70 years after their creator’s death.
Is it necessary to extend the Copyright Act?
This change delays many works from entering the public domain. In the opinion of some of the people who believe that everything should be free, access to content would be reduced. For copyright owners this extension could mean they would be paid more royalties so they can fund the creation of new works.
That being said, the Copyright Act still needs to protect content effectively. For years, the cultural sector has been saying the Act is full of exceptions that allow works to be used without paying fair compensation.
How can the term of protection be extended?
CUSMA provides for a transitional period up to the end of 2022 before these changes have to be applied. During that period, the government will have to decide how the copyright term extension will be implemented.
The federal government would like to hear more from stakeholders about this issue in order to determine whether accompanying measures should be adopted to address potential implications of term extension.
Is a real update to the Copyright Act on the way?
The cultural sector was hoping the government would take this opportunity to move forward with a review of the Copyright Act. Regardless of the term of protection, the Act is riddled with exceptions and, because it lacks strong measures, is ineffective in ensuring fair compensation for creators.
The government indicated that it “is also reviewing recommendations stemming from the parliamentary review of the Copyright Act.” Following that review, a Parliamentary Committee tabled a compelling report (Shifting Paradigms) to the House of Commons: the many exceptions in the Act, combined with the weakness of the penalties applied for copyright violations, threaten the royalties of many arts and culture sectors, especially the book industry.