Paradigm shift: Recommended changes to Canadian copyright law announced

16 May 2019

On May 15, 2019, Parliament's Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage released a report entitled Shifting Paradigms containing a set of 22 different and varied recommended amendments to Canada's Copyright Act.

The Committee's report follows a study of remuneration models for artists and creative industries and the challenges and opportunities of new access points for creative content. Before issuing its report, the Committee held 19 meetings, heard testimony from 115 witnesses, and received 75 written briefs. Witnesses included representatives from various cultural industries as well as government officials, academics, and other interested parties.

The Committee's mandate was to try to understand the everyday situation of Canadian artists, and the current environment in which they work and how it has transformed in recent years. The Committee identified numerous themes or challenges from the testimony it heard and representations it received, including that:

  • There is a disparity or "value gap" between the value of creative content enjoyed by consumers and the revenues that are received by artists and the creative industries.
  • That there has been a severe decline in the ability of Canadian artists to earn a "middle-class" income.
  • That remuneration has not kept pace with the rise of digital access points for creative content.

In response to these challenges facing the creative industries, the Committee issued a number of general recommendations that the Government of Canada raise awareness of copyright law and artist remuneration, increase support for creators and creative industries in adapting to new digital markets, and increase efforts to combat piracy and enforce copyright.

The Committee also recommended a series of specific legislative changes to Canada's Copyright Act, including that the Government of Canada:

  • Extend the term of copyright from 50 to 70 years from the author's death.
  • Extend moral and economic rights to audiovisual performers.
  • Amend s. 34.1 of the Act to deem the screenwriter and director the co-owners of copyright and co-authors of a television or cinematographic work.
  • Amend the Act to clarify that fair dealing should not apply to educational institutions when the work is commercially available.
  • Harmonize and improve the enforcement of statutory damages for infringement.
  • Establish an artist's resale right.

A number of these recommendations are similar to previously-announced or promised changes to the Act. For example, the extension of the term of copyright in Canada to 70 years has been previously promised by the Government, and the new Canada – United States – Mexico Agreement (intended to replace NAFTA) would require Canada to extend copyright protection in this manner. Similarly, the Committee heard testimony from many witnesses speaking to the need for reform to the practices and procedures of the Copyright Board, which sets various compulsory licensing tariffs in Canada. Following the Committee's hearing, reform of the Copyright Board was announced in the recent budget implementation bill. However, at the present time, these legislative changes have not yet been adopted.

Other recommended changes, such as the introduction of an artist's resale right to generate royalties for visual artists who otherwise only derive revenue from the initial sale of their works, would represent a more radical departure from existing Canadian copyright law.

At this time it is unclear when and in what form these recommendations may give rise to specific legislative changes to the Copyright Act. Parliament is scheduled to adjourn in late June 2019 and will not resume until after the Federal election scheduled for October of this year.

Nonetheless, the Committee's recommendations in this report continue and reinforce an ongoing trend in Canada towards several discrete changes in Canadian copyright law, including the important issues of term extension and reform of the Copyright Board.

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