Home > World Watch > You Say Registrar I Say Register: Truth in the Land of Plenty

You Say Registrar I Say Register: Truth in the Land of Plenty

April 24, 2015

A quick update on the Canadian copyright extension for sound recordings:  The magisterium of the professoriate in Canada is equivocating yet again on the difference between artists who write songs and artists who don’t and misleading the public in the process.

I know that’s a shocker.  While you recover, a quick detour on the difference between a songwriter and an recording artist.  Yes, at a certain level of generality, both are called “artists”.  But in these discussions, the two are treated quite differently.

In Canada, songwriters get a term of copyright measured by their life plus an additional 50 years.  If you consider an average life expectancy of 80 years, that’s 130 year copyright term.  For all you Statute of Ann fans out there, I realize that’s a good long time and that you would prefer a copyright term of the life expectancy of the average indoor tabby.  Newsflash: That ship has sailed.

Sound recordings in Canada, on the other hand, have a fixed term essentially measured from release date for conversational purposes.  That term was 50 years and soon will be 70.  Not 130.  Roughly half.

Songwriters typically retain at least 50% of their songs’ income as the writer’s share and often get more if they have a co-publishing agreement and even more if they have only an administration agreement.

Artists, on the other hand, get a royalty of something between 1/8 to 1/4 of a number that you can think of as the wholesale price.  There are a bunch of lawsuits right now about digital–those lawsuits seek 50% for digital and are being settled.

Unbelievably, I’m reading a bunch of attacks on Canadian artists like Leonard Cohen and Randy Bachman, even Buffy St. Marie (seriously).  As more and more artists come out in support of the 70 year copyright term, the Canadian professoriate have an increasing number of targets to sling mud at.

But here’s the difference–in case they haven’t noticed, the professoriate needs to check their calendars.  It’s not 1999 anymore.  Artists are sick and tired of being told how stupid and greedy they are by academics who get a paycheck every week and who have the brass to tell them that they should be happy with their songwriter royalty–even the ones who aren’t songwriters.

These are the same kind of people who mock songwriters and want them to sell more t-shirts and who have very little daylight between them and Big Tech.  The consistent part is that when it profits them to do so, they bash the artists on the sound recording issues and then bash the songwriters on the musical composition issues.  And in between they want the government to regulate every breath we take.

The first time I met Gordon Lightfoot and Leonard Cohen was with the late Jesse Winchester at Montreux many years ago.  Many years after that, I worked with David Anderle to release “Tower of Song” on A&M, which is still one of the great albums.  I realize that these artists could care less what Michael Geist thinks of them, but it pains me to see them get bashed gratuitously by the self-appointed professoriate in their own country to further an agenda that is as close to Google’s as one is to two.

The comfort though is that it’s not 1999 anymore and as dozens of Canada’s great artists speak out, they give us all a lesson in courage.  I’m sure that their truth will prevail.

Like the man said, may the lights in the land of plenty shine on the truth some day.

PS to bloggers:  See what I did there with the link to buy “Tower of Song”?  I linked it to Waterloo Records, my local indie record store.  I bet you have an indie record store, too.  And if you don’t, use Waterloo.  Texas wants you anyway.  But you don’t have to give into the inclination to link everything to Amazon.  Your indie record store offering online sales is perfectly capable of drop shipping CDs to you, and they will appreciate the business.  An added plus:  They answer the phone and they know WTF they are doing.

  1. April 25, 2015 at 06:38

    I’m not an “academic,” nor am I a member of the “professoriate,” which is not actually written with an E on the end. I am, moreover, Canadian, which you aren’t, and again, please stop meddling in another country’s affairs.

    There are substantive reasons why 50 years is a perfectly reasonable copyright term for sound recordings. Whatever fraction that might be of 130 is not a substantive reason. I would like you to explain, for example, how a 70-year term is remotely better, for any party other than the performers, in the case of classical repertoire, almost all of which has been out of copyright for decades or centuries (if it ever was copyrighted). Not every case is Leonard Cohen, an elderly man who will not actually benefit from a term extension, doing another rendition of “Hallelujah.”

  2. Chris Castle
    April 25, 2015 at 08:49

    A share of classical repertoire otherwise in the PD is frequently claimed by the arrangers. This happens all the time in the US, probably other countries. An argument could be made that the arranger share is perpetual if it is claimed as a financial interest not based on copyright, but the better result would probably be to recognize the arranged work as a new work and recognize copyright (and permit a new U.S. registration with the PD work disclaimed as a pre-existing work). I believe this is the rule in the US, but you can look it up in the new Copyright Compendium. I know that SOCAN will usually recognize the financial interest for the arranger, which usually means that there is also a copyright claim in the same proportion, but you’d have to ask the Copyright Board for the Canadian rule. Not an area of weeds I deal in much so just off the top of my head. On a more serious note, I don’t think I misspelled “professoriate”. I haven’t hauled out my Oxford dictionary yet, but did a quick look up in the online dictionaries and see it spelled both ways. I agree with you that when Geist compares the copyright terms for songs vs. recordings it is unpersuasive which is the genesis of the post. I do keep an eye on events in other countries in our “World Watch” series, which some find interesting so they read the posts, and when others do not I assume they don’t.

  3. Gil Moore
    April 25, 2015 at 10:55

    Chris
    Yet another great piece –
    Thanks for helping the musician’s cause as always and putting the spotlight on Geist –
    he is indeed a creep that deserves to be called out
    Gil Moore

    Sent from my iPhone

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