Copyright Revisions in Canada: Half a Loaf is Better Than None

by Mark Akrigg on June 28, 2010

Life+50 Duration Retained

The basic Life+50 copyright term is safe in Canada, at least for now.

There has been considerable pressure from foreign governments for Canada to extend its copyright term, but the Copyright Act revisions unveiled in June left the basic term of copyright unchanged. For this, the government deserves our thanks and congratulations. They have upheld the public interest.

Copyright Extensions for Some Photographs and Audio Recordings

However, harmful copyright extensions for some photographs and audio recordings are proposed in the new Bill C-32, making an unwelcome return. These provisions had been part of Bill C-61, a copyright bill introduced before the last election, but never passed. Now these provisions are back. For an explanation of these changes, and why they are harmful, see the Project Gutenberg Canada submission to last summer’s government-sponsored Copyright Consultations:

Nothing Done to Protect the Public Domain

My submission to the government dealt largely with the issue of works where the life dates of the authors are not known. Such situations are very common, but the Copyright Act makes no provision for them. The preposterous result is that such works have to be 140 years old before we can treat them as being in the public domain. We proposed that specific provision be made for such works, so that they are treated as being part of the public domain after 75 years. It is unlikely that such a provision would have encountered significant opposition had it been proposed.

But it was not proposed.

The Saskatchewan Archives Board made a submission last summer explaining why the copyright rules for photographs in place since the late nineties are unworkable.

Nothing was done to address the Archives Board’s simple and practical suggestion of “a fixed term of copyright protection for photographs. The term of fifty years from the creation that was used in the copyright law previously is preferable from an archival perspective. A fixed term makes it easier to determine the term of protection because the only information needed to make the determination is the date the photograph was created.”

It is nothing short of astounding that a solidly reasoned and entirely straightforward suggestion from a provincial archive board should have been ignored. The situation is even more astounding considering that 13 of the 14 MPs for Saskatchewan are members of the governing party, and are certainly in a position to do something for their province.

Digital Locks

The most controversial part of the bill is the absolute prohibition on bypassing digital locks, even in the many cases where this is done for entirely legal purposes, such as those allowed under fair use provisions. The best explanation I have seen of this situation was provided in the Calgary Herald, an Alberta newspaper, by Rory McGreal, associate vice-president, research, at Athabasca University, a public university in Alberta.

All but one of Alberta’s federal seats are held by the Conservative Party, and the Prime Minister is the member for Calgary Southwest. Albertans are certainly within their rights to ask their Members of Parliament to act in the best interest of Albertans.

What should Canadian supporters of the free ebooks movement do?

The simplest and most effective thing to do is to contact your Member of Parliament. Here is the contact information that you need:

Parliament has begun its recess, and MPs will be back in their ridings for the summer. This is an excellent time to contact them, while they are close at hand. In the fall, detailed consideration of the bill will begin. There is also a strong possibility of a fall election. This means that sitting members and nominated candidates will certainly be in a mood to listen to you, for the moment at least! Points you might wish to emphasize are:

  1. An attack on the public domain is an attack on the public. Canada offers generous copyright protection. Copyright extensions are not only unnecessary, they are grievously harmful.
  2. Inaccessible parts of the public domain must be made accessible. Incompletely documented works older than 75 years should be considered part of the public domain. It is ridiculous that some works dating to the middle of the reign of Victoria should be inaccessible to the public,
  3. Digital locks are prone to abuse by corporations, and are not entitled to any kind of special protection. In fact, such practices as regional coding of DVDs, making DVDs legally acquired in Europe and Asia unplayable in Canada, are an unacceptable infringement of the property rights of individual Canadians, and should be banned outright.


Last year, many of you were among the thousands of Canadians who made submissions to the government’s Copyright Consultations. Your submissions were effective. One message that was unmistakable last summer was how strongly opposed the Canadian public is to copyright extensions.

You spoke, and, to their great credit, the government listened. The basic Canadian copyright term remains in place.

Thank you, and keep up the good work!

Mark Akrigg
Project Gutenberg Canada

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