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Celine Dion performs on the opening night of her world tour Courage at the Videotron Centre in Quebec City, on Sept. 18, 2019.ALICE CHICHE/Getty Images

Musicians say they are missing out on millions of dollars in royalties when their music is played in films, on streaming platforms or on TV, and they want the government to adjust the copyright rules in the forthcoming budget to grant them rights payments if their work is on screen.

They say Canada is out of step with countries such as Britain, France and Japan by not allowing singers and musicians to receive performance royalties from TV or film, even if their music becomes the theme tune to a hit show, movie or major ad campaign.

The federal government has not updated the Copyright Act since pledging to do so in 2021. With an election due next year, musicians now want Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland to use the forthcoming budget implementation bill – a mechanism used to adjust copyright rules in 2022 – to make the change.

Jake Gold, manager of The Tragically Hip, said the anomaly in copyright law is affecting Canada’s entire music ecosystem, and that Canadian musicians are losing millions in performing rights when their music is used on TV or in film, including on streaming platforms such as Netflix.

He said it’s not just internationally successful acts that stand to benefit from a change to the rules but also a lot of individual Canadian artists. A change would help them pay for their next record, cover tour expenses and “all kinds of things like that to keep the machine going,” he said.

Performers, including band members, gain a slice of royalties if their music is used on radio, but not on TV or in film. The rules give royalties to the writers and publishers of the music, but not to everyone playing on a track, or to bands or singers covering a song played on TV or in a film.

Some major artists cut deals so they get some of the royalties but most miss out if their music is picked up by a movie or TV studio, Mr. Gold said.

Under the current regime, Celine Dion, who sang the hit song My Heart Will Go On for the film Titanic, would not get performance royalties each time the film is screened, as she did not write the theme tune, Mr. Gold said.

The Barenaked Ladies, who wrote the theme for the hit comedy series Big Bang Theory, do not gain performers’ royalties, only writer’s royalties under the current rules, each time the hit program is screened in Canada and worldwide.

A change would enable Canadian artists to claim performers’ royalties if TV shows and films – such as Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, featuring Bryan Adams’s hit (Everything I Do) I Do It for You – are rescreened.

Mr. Gold said the current definition of a sound recording in the Copyright Act – excluding “any soundtrack of a cinematographic work” – means that musicians are even losing performing royalties from documentaries about their careers. Amazon is set to screen a documentary about The Tragically Hip this fall, he said, but the band may not get performers’ royalties from the soundtrack because Canada’s royalty rules are out of step with many other countries.

In Britain, royalties worth more than $287-million were accrued for performers and labels between 2020 and 2025, and in Japan the sum was about $634-million, according to Re:Sound, a Canadian not-for-profit music licensing company that advocates for music creators and distributes royalties.

Lou Ragagnin, president and chief executive officer, said “France and Germany and the Netherlands and Sweden and Japan have a massive music ecosystem that pays their rights holders fairly. So, we’re not really reinventing the wheel here. We’re just trying to level the playing field for artists in Canada.”

“Oftentimes … when we go to try to collect royalties in other countries, they would point to the fact that we don’t have that right and so they don’t reciprocate,” he added.

But a change to the copyright rules is sharply opposed by broadcasters who would have to pay out. They say multinational music labels stand to benefit the most from a redefinition of sound recordings to include TV and film. It could also mean that Canada would have to reciprocally pay foreign performers whose music is featured in shows screened in Canada.

“This would result in more than $40-million being pulled out of Canada’s broadcasting sector, with the vast majority going primarily to foreign music labels and global performers,” said Kevin Desjardins, president of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters.

“It’s important to note that this is also a case of double-dipping, as these labels are paid significant licensing fees for the use of these songs in movies, TV, advertising and other media. Any benefit to Canadian musicians would be minimal, but the impact on broadcasters and their ability to continue to sustain news and Canadian programming would be significant.”

Among those calling for a change to the Copyright Act is Liberal MP Tim Louis, a jazz musician who has recorded a number of albums. Last month he delivered letters from musicians to Ms. Freeland asking her to implement the change in the budget.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify that Jake Gold is The Tragically Hip's current manager, having reunited with the band following the death of lead singer Gord Downie.

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