Until December 30, copyright protection applied to original literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works during the artist’s lifetime plus 50 years after his death.
The new regulations now apply during the artist’s lifetime and 70 years after his death.
This amendment allows Canada to honor a commitment made under the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement and ensures that the same rule is applied in Canada and the United States where the 70-year period after the Artist’s Death has been in effect since 1998.
That agreement gave Canada until December 31, 2022 to meet that deadline, and it pushed back that deadline by one day. In a statement from the office of Innovation Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, the government said the change also puts Canada on a par with many other countries, such as Britain and Australia.
Canada will continue to do its part to protect the interests of artists, creators and rights holders while balancing the needs of the industry, the statement said.
This means that artistic works that could be republished or reused without permission since January 1 receive an additional 20 years of protection.
This has enabled, for example, numerous adaptations, reprints, prequels, and sequels to Anne of Green Gables, which entered the public domain in the United States in 1983 and in Canada in 1992. Public also allows libraries, museums and archives to freely use works for historical research purposes, including publishing archives of important documents from politicians and world leaders online.
For example, copyright protection for some of the writings of former Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, who died in December 1972, expires on January 1, 2043.
Copyright protection is not retroactive, but applies to any author, composer or screenwriter whose work would be in the public domain by 2043, meaning nothing new will be added to the public domain in Canada for 20 years.
This period affects the novels of Canadian authors such as Margaret Laurence and Gabrielle Roy, but also international writers such as JRR Tolkien and Roald Dahl.
A decision criticized by scientists
Writers’ unions generally support these changes because the more likely authors are paid for their work, the more incentive they have to create.
However, academics, librarians, archivists and museums argue that this limits their ability to access and use hundreds of works, most of which no longer have any commercial value. The reality is that the vast majority of works in the public domain have little or no commercial value, said Michael Geist, Canadian research chair in internet law and e-commerce at the University of Ottawa.
And that’s one of the reasons many others are really worried about this extension, because so many works have cultural-historical value but no longer have any commercial value.
Mr. Geist also challenges the idea that the 50-year lag after death stifles creation.
He explained that in his opinion no one had been shy about writing a great novel in recent years and then woke up thinking they could move on now that their heirs would enjoy another 20 years of protection after his death. People just don’t think that way, he says.
He said the added protection was of commercial use to a small number of people and this could have been resolved with an opt-in clause or obtaining consent from rightsholders of works that still have commercial value. The latter can request an extension, Mr. Geist gives as an example.
He also said it expands the restrictions on access or use of so-called orphan works whose rightsholders are not easily contacted.
Government accused of acting discreetly
Mr Geist also accused the government of burying the amendment by placing it at the end of a nearly 450-page draft budget last spring. The government has not highlighted the changes to the copyright law in any of its documents related to this bill.
There was also no announcement from the government when the cabinet decided in November to set the effective date for December 30. In total, the government issued 3,998 press releases in 2022, and none of them related to changes in copyright law.
Many people have literally woken up to this issue over the past two days and are shocked to learn that Canada has planned and done this because it has received so little coverage and attention, Mr Geist concluded.