Copyright protection on creative content — which currently lasts for the author’s lifetime plus 50 years — will soon be lengthened by 20 years to cover the author’s lifetime plus 70 years after their death.
- Why is this change being made?
- What are the impacts for authors and their beneficiaries?
- How does it affect the users of copyrighted content?
Why does copyright protection expire at all?
Copyright has always been a balancing act for the governments that implement it.
On the one hand, copyright gives the rightsholder a monopoly over the use of their work. The copyright monopoly prevents other citizens from making use of that content.
On the other hand, citizens benefit from having access to creative content. It’s good for a society’s culture to be widely distributed but the work done by creators must still be respected.
The Copyright Act therefore sets an end date for the copyright owner's monopoly after a certain period of time so everyone will be able to use the content and help society advance.
Why is the copyright term being extended now?
In 2018, Canada signed the Canada-U.S.-Mexico Agreement, which contained clauses calling for standardization among the three countries’ copyright regimes.
Under the agreement, Canada must amend its copyright legislation by December 31, 2022 to make the term of copyright correspond to the author’s lifetime plus the 70 years following their death.
When the federal government adopted the Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on April 7, 2022 and other measures, it included a provision (buried on page 328) extending copyright protection for 70 years after the author’s death.
The bill should come into force before the end of 2022. It’s currently under study in the Senate and has undergone second reading by a Parliamentary committee.
What will happen to copyrights that would’ve expired soon?
The Canadian government has decided not to include transitional measures for the new copyright term.
Usually, 50 years after the author’s death, a copyrighted work automatically enters the public domain. In this case, however, as soon as the legislation changes at the end of 2022, the copyright on works by authors who died in 1972 will be maintained until ... 2042.
This is the same scenario that took place in the U.S. in 1998 when the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Act extended copyright protection from 50 to 70 years after the author’s death. As a result, between 1998 and 2019, no new works entered the public domain in the U.S.
Since this change to the Canadian legislation won’t be retroactive, works already in the public domain will remain there.
Impact for beneficiaries
First and foremost, this change affects anyone who has inherited an author’s economic and moral rights.
The extension of the copyright term directly benefits them because they will have a longer period of exclusivity to make use of the work. The beneficiaries will be able to take advantage of the economic and moral rights related to the work for an additional 20 years.
The longer copyright term can also benefit the work’s creator during their lifetime. Given that the timeframe has been extended, copyright owners should be able to negotiate better compensation if they license or assign certain rights to their works.
Impact for content users
Users will have to pay closer attention because the content they choose is more likely to be protected by copyright.
There will be more works that are not yet in the public domain, encouraging some users to turn to other types of royalty-free content.
The Act’s balance may have shifted
Copyright experts have made the point that extending the copyright term could jeopardize the balance that the Copyright Act has always attempted to maintain.
The government’s goal is to protect the interests of creators and ensure suitable compensation for their work while taking into account the interests of content users.
By extending the timeframe for copyright protection, the government is further limiting the public's access to various content. In addition, some experts believe that longer copyright terms don’t have the desired benefits for authors.
A drop in the bucket?
A 2021 Australian study showed that extending the term of copyright has little impact on the income generated for authors and their beneficiaries. According to that study, the profits from a copyrighted work are generated mostly in the years immediately following publication.
For most content, adding 20 years of protection would produce only marginal revenue.
From that perspective, when it comes to content owned by large companies, extending copyright would mainly serve corporate interests.