Eighteen Till I Die? How about waiting until 25 years after you die?
That’s how long it takes under Canada’s copyright laws for artists to regain the rights to the material they produce, internationally renowned Canadian singer-songwriter Bryan Adams told a House of Commons committee on Tuesday.
“So if you write a script or you write a book or you write a song, and you assign your copyright to a company, you have to wait 25 years after you die to get it back,” Mr. Adams told the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.
“That needs to change.”
Mr. Adams, known for musical hits such as 18 Till I Die and Summer of ‘69, but also for his celebrity photographic works, said he likely would not benefit from a change in law since he owns copyrights to most of his Canadian work and other music produced in the United States.
But budding young artists certainly would benefit through better control of what they create, he said.
Section 14(1) of the Copyright Act states that authors and composers who transfer or assign the copyrights of their work by contract must wait until 25 years after death to get them back.
That compares with the United States, where changes enacted in 1976 stipulate that copyright can revert back to an artist, upon request, 35 years after those rights are assigned to someone else.
Mr. Adams proposed changing a single word in Canada’s Copyright Act, from 25 years after “death” to 25 years after “assignment.”
“It just think it’s fair,” Mr. Adams said, noting that it took several years for him to realize Canada’s copyright stipulations after he signed his first record deal – for a dollar.
The transfer of rights under copyright laws are meant to allow artists to work with agents, or intermediaries, to more widely disseminate what they produce, says Daniel Gervais, intellectual property law professor at Vanderbilt University Law School.
“Those companies market the work of authors and allow authors to monetize their talent, or their craft,” Mr. Gervais told the committee through a video link from Nashville.
“And, in doing so, to make a living, and to continue creating,” he said.
But there has to be a balance between artists, who are often vulnerable when just starting out, and their agents, Mr. Gervais said. “It is time to rebalance this relationship between authors and those that exploit their works by contract.”
The question for policy-makers to answer is how long a period of time is considered reasonable for a publisher to hold onto a copyright in order to recoup their investment and make a profit.
Several countries, including Belgium and Germany, recognize that it makes no sense for companies to retain copyrights over an artist’s work indefinitely, Mr. Gervais said.
Mr. Adams said he raised the issue “quietly” with former prime minister Stephen Harper when the Conservatives were in power, but no changes were brought forward.
He has since spoken with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about it, and was told he should bring the issue into the public spotlight through the parliamentary committee.
The singer said it was also not lost on him that political pressure could especially be applied now, with a federal election a little more than a year away, to further his proposal.
“It definitely would be a vote in favour, for a lot of artists and composers, of this government if they were to change it,” Mr. Adams told reporters after testifying before the committee.
The Liberals have not decided whether to make changes to the Copyright Act, said Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez, a self-described Adams fan.
But the government wants to ensure that creators are properly compensated, he said.
“What’s important for us at the end of the day [is] that the artists are paid for what they do.”