According to Bryan Adams, major labels always force up-and-coming talent to sign over their works for a long period of time.
Several months ago, negotiators from the US and Canada reached a trade agreement. The deal – made right before a midnight deadline – came after a year of arduous negotiations.
Yet, not everyone agreed with the outcome.
Representing the interests of the big three major labels, the RIAA’s Mitch Glazier said the new NAFTA – now dubbed the USMCA – doesn’t do enough to provide adequate modern copyright protections for American creators. Instead, the proposal advances outdated safe harbor provisions.
Now, a Canadian musician has lambasted another aspect of the agreement.
Who really benefits from Canada’s extended copyright term?
Under the USMCA, Canada will extend its current copyright term to 70 years after the creator’s death.
By extending the copyright term, rightsholders will generate more profit. Or, at least in theory.
Yet, Bryan Adams, a notable Canadian singer/songwriter, has criticized the initiative.
In a nine-page paper, he argues that large intermediaries – i.e., major record labels – will benefit the most from the new change. Current copyright laws, writes Adams, benefits these intermediaries, not actual creators. The creator “holds the short end of the stick.”
“Creators deal with one or few intermediaries; they sign up creators all the time. Creators striking a first deal sign anything that is presented to them; an intermediary rarely needs to sign up this creator. So, creators often transfer too many rights, for too long, sometimes ‘in all media, throughout the universe and in perpetuity.’”
To fix this “imbalance,” he asks Parliament to make a simple change – just substitute a single word.
“The simplest solution would be to amend subsection 14(1) of the Copyright Act by changing the word “death” to “assignment”. All copyright assignments would end after 25 years.”
Adams presented this suggestion to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage on September 18th, 2018.
Explaining the “unfair bargaining imbalance” between creators and intermediaries, he explains it’s easy for creators to “assign away the rights to a creation.” Since it’s very difficult to get these rights back, major labels always have the upper hand.
“They sign talent deals all the time; the talent does not.”
Even worse, creators sell their rights cheaply, adds Adams.
“To a young composer, a modest advance may seem a fortune. Exaggerated expectations about future income streams and what they include can lead creators to view their percentage of the deal as more than what it is.”
This won’t change anytime soon, posits Adams.
To help creators, the Canadian Parliament should include a termination clause.
“Including a termination right in Canadian copyright law would help to ensure that real-world copyright law works more in favor of creators. It would also help reduce some of the unintended effects of the upcoming extension of copyright.”
The 70-year extension would only “put money in the pockets” of major labels and not creators.
“Granting the right of termination is an interesting and effective way to balance copyright duration with creators’ continued remuneration.
“Amend the Copyright Act to allow creators to terminate all copyright transfers 25 years after the date of transfer.”
You can view the complete letter below.
Featured image by Maurice Li Photography (CC by 2.0).