You the taxpayer paid for Donald Brittain's The Champions, his National Film Board of Canada trilogy exploring the careers of Pierre Trudeau and René Lévesque. But you can't see it -- because rights to much of the footage used in this production have expired. "And it won't become available until the NFB decides that it is worth its money to renew the cost of image clearances," says Samantha Hodder, executive director of the Documentary Organization of Canada.
Thanks to spiralling copyright licensing costs, payable to whoever holds the copyright (unions, archives, creators, corporations) -- and thanks, too, to the rising cost of insurance to protect against copyright claims -- more and more public film footage is no longer available to the Canadian public, nor for use by Canadian creators. That's the message of the DOC's new white paper, released yesterday by the 700-member organization.
The Copyright Clearance Culture and Canadian Documentaries, written by Ottawa copyright lawyer Howard Knopf, cites many eyebrow-raising cases. An example: Quebec filmmaker Sylvie Van Brabant's film Remous/Earthwalk has been withdrawn from public circulation because its main character sings 30 seconds of a recognizable tune whose rights the National Film Board has deemed too expensive to renew.
The cost of paying to use archival footage has been increasing, in part, the white paper notes, because underfunded institutions such as the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. and NFB have taken to using licensing fees as a revenue source. Filmmaker Avi Lewis was told that it would cost him $187.50 per second for CBC footage of his own grandfather, former NDP leader David Lewis, uttering the phrase "corporate welfare bums." The younger Lewis backed off.
The white paper also details how imminent changes to Canadian copyright law -- probably coming early in the new year -- could make matters even worse.
The DOC has also sent the Departments of Heritage and Industry a letter -- signed by more than 130 filmmakers, including Oscar-winner Denys Arcand and Emmy-winner John Kastner -- urging that Ottawa's forthcoming copyright legislation incorporate the idea of fair use and users' rights.
"The urban landscape is saturated with trademarks, jingles and signs. We must not be constrained by restrictions on incidental use," filmmaker Kevin McMahon said. "If I inserted a wide shot of Yonge Street into one of my films, most lawyers would advise me to seek the permission of every merchant, billboard owner and advertiser." Lacking that, McMahon said, he would have to remove the shot.