Skip to main content

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 An example: Quebec filmmaker Sylvie Van Brabant's film Remous/Earthwalk has been withdrawn from public circulation because its main character sings 30 seconds of a recognizable tune whose rights the National Film Board has deemed too expensive to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.

Story continues below advertisement

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.

Report an error
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter