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Musician and songwriter Randy Bachman. (Christie Goodwin)
Musician and songwriter Randy Bachman. (Christie Goodwin)


Taking care of the Canadian music business Add to ...

Randy Bachman is a musician, songwriter and a founding member of the Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive.


Close your eyes, and think about your favourite Canadian music. Is it by Joni Mitchell? Neil Young? Serena Ryder? Arcade Fire? Glenn Gould? Sarah McLachlan? Don Thompson? Metric? Rush? If I’m lucky, maybe it’s one of my songs, such as Takin’ Care of Business or You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet.

Now, imagine this great Canadian music was never created. That sad day might not be far off if we don’t smarten up and put systems in place that better support those who create music. Unless we want Canadian music to go silent, the federal government needs to change the treatment of Canadian songwriters and composers.

In the most recent federal budget, the government proposed to increase the length of copyright protection for sound recordings to 70 years from 50 years to be closer to international standards. This would be great if it also always covered the songwriters and composers who actually wrote the music, but it does not. It helps only those who performed on the recordings. The creators’ copyright protection is frozen at the life of the author plus 50 years. This would leave Canada lagging behind most other G20 countries, including the United States, the U.K., and almost all of the European Union.

As a songwriter, I have better conditions for protection in foreign countries than in Canada – and it is not clear to me why my government is okay with this. Similarly, on the world stage, why would the creations of foreign authors be worth less in terms of duration when their works are used in Canada rather than in the United States, France, the U.K., Australia and many other countries? Why is Canada’s policy choice to lag behind, rather than lead?

The government could take two steps – one immediate and one longer-term – to ensure that Canadian songwriters and composers receive at least the same copyright protection that they have in most other countries.

In the short term, the government should amend the Budget Implementation Act so that songwriter and composer copyrights are also extended to the life of the author plus 70 years. This is an easy fix, and would be consistent with what the government is proposing to give to recording-rights holders.

Copyright protection gives songwriters and composers the ability to make a living from their work, leave a legacy – and inspire others to do the same. Beyond the music itself, which contributes to national pride and culture, this stimulates a vital sector of the economy and improves the choices available to consumers in the marketplace, keeping money in Canada. Everyone wins.

In the longer term, the government could provide more incentive for music creators to stay in Canada by offering tailored tax benefits, such as those already provided by many other countries. This would encourage music creators to stay here, pay taxes here and stimulate our economy by more directly participating in it.

Opponents of copyright extension seem to believe that those who love making music don’t care about the money, or that being a musician means you are also a gifted creator who wrote the material being performed. If that were the case, every accomplished hobbyist would also be a hit songwriter, and my own path to success would have been a lot easier than the years of hard work on the road, and countless hours honing my songwriting skills.

Writing music that connects with people and evokes emotion takes work, passion and an unwavering focus, and carries a high risk of failure. Society should pay the creators what they have rightfully earned, so that a middle-class career (at least) can be the reward for solid songwriting skills, and so that they can keep creating – in Canada. Otherwise, Canadian music could stop being made.

By amending the Budget Implementation Act so that Canadian creators and songwriters get fair copyright protection, the government would create an environment where music can thrive, and songwriters and composers – especially up-and-coming talent – will persevere here. Canada needs to compete with the rest of the world to foster, attract and keep songwriters and composers. We must not let Canadian music fade away. The show must go on – for the benefit of all.

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