MPs Seek Copyright Reforms

The Commons heritage committee yesterday endorsed sweeping copyright reforms to raise by millions the royalties paid to authors, musicians and performers. Creators testified they earned a pittance – one bestselling novelist reported a $12,000 annual income – due to Copyright Act exemptions.

“Hearing those stories from artists speaking about their experiences stood out,” said Liberal MP Julie Dabrusin (Toronto-Danforth), committee chair. “We wanted to reflect the needs of creators.”

The committee report Shifting Paradigms recommended Parliament repeal a 2012 amendment to the Act that allows universities, colleges and school boards to copy works free of charge under a “fair dealing” exemption. “Fair dealing should not apply to educational institutions when the work is commercially available,” said the report: “Many writers and publishers noted how their incomes have declined since the changes to fair dealing in 2012.”

The Association of Canadian Publishers estimated licensing fees fell 89 percent due to free photocopying for educational purposes. The Federal Court in 2017 faulted York University for copying millions of articles and book chapters without royalties. The ruling is under appeal.

MP Dabrusin said only works without a commercial market like academic treatises should be copied free of charge. “If you can buy that textbook or buy that poem, that should not be exempt,” said Dabrusin.

“This is not just a clinical report,” said Dabrusin. “The creators, the authors and publishers were very clear in telling the committee of the impact the educational exemption had on their work.”

Sylvia McNicoll, a bestselling Burlington, Ont. children’s author, testified her income fell sharply due to wholesale copying. “My income is down 90 percent to $12,000,” McNicoll told 2018 hearings of the Commons heritage committee.

“The world watches as Canadian schools download and copy curated content in a government-sanctioned theft,” said McNicoll. “I’m trying to make a living. It’s impossible.”

Made 0.03¢ A Hit

The committee also recommended Parliament enact Copyright Act amendments sought by composers and performers including an extension of owners’ rights from 50 to 70 years after a creator’s death; regulation of music streaming services; payment of royalties to performers whose work is heard in film and TV soundtracks; and repeal of a 1997 policy that capped at $100 a year the music royalties owed by radio stations on their first $1.25 million in advertising revenue.

The $100 radio cap should only apply to campus stations or local independent broadcasters, said MP Dabrusin. “It was never intended to be there to support large businesses that own multiple stations,” she said.

Damhnait Doyle, vice-president of the Songwriters Association of Canada, said in testimony last June 7 that industry-friendly copyright exemptions had eviscerated middle-class composers and performers. “Creators are being hammered from all sides, from minimizing streaming income to piracy to outdated exemptions for big business,” said Doyle. “Everybody is getting paid in the music industry. They are. The only people not getting paid are creators.”

“The middle class of creators has been eviscerated at this point,” said Doyle: “Most cannot pay their rent, let alone go to the dentist.”

David Bussieres, founder of Montréal-based Regroupement des Artisans de la Musique, testified September 20 that copyright exemptions left “crumbs for the artists”. Bussieres said his 2014 hit Lumière brought him $10.80 in royalties on Spotify though the song was played thousands of times.

“It was 0.03¢ per hit,” he said. The same song generated 60,000 views on YouTube with net revenue of $153.

The heritage committee also recommended Parliament “raise awareness of copyright”, “promote copyright” and combat piracy and unlicensed duplication of works. “While there are many highly successful, well-known Canadian musicians, artists, writers and performers, most artists and creators in Canada struggle to earn a living from their art,” said Shifting Paradigms.

The committee “cares deeply about the subject”, said MP Dabrusin. “Creators talked about the impact on income they need to keep producing the works that we love.”

Industry Canada in a 2018 Study Of Online Consumption Of Copyrighted Content: Attitudes Toward And Prevalence Of Copyright Infringement In Canada said 26 percent of internet users – the equivalent of 7.3 million Canadians – admitted to illegally accessing music, e-books, movies, software, TV shows and video games.

Asked why they stole material online, respondents replied that it was easy to do (39 percent); “It’s only fair” (26 percent); “It’s what everyone does” (24 percent); and “I should be able to share my content with whomever I choose” (19 percent).

By Staff

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