You may have heard about Bryan Adams appearance at hearings in Ottawa where he advocated for changes in Canada’s 100-year-old copyright laws. What’s exactly going on? Let’s break it down.
When an artist signs a record deal, copyright of that artist’s works is normally assigned to the record label. In other words, the label has the sole and exclusive right to exploit that music for commercial gain. The artist may get a piece of the proceeds, but has no ownership of that music. It’s not until 25 years after the artists’ death that the artist gets to own the music. By that time, it’s a little too late to enjoy the fruits of that labour, you know?
In the United States, musicians recover their copyright 35 years after originally signing them away. This dates back to a 1978 revision to copyright law that granted artists “termination rights” to get their stuff back, providing they apply two years in advance.
One of the heroes in this fight turned out to be Victor Willis, the original lead singer of the Village People. Back in 2009, he filed to have the copyright of 32 of the band’s songs (including “YMCA” and “In the Navy”) returned to him.
This obscure note in American law has allowed people like Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and other legacy artists to apply to finally own their music outright.
Another person who has filed to reclaim his early work is, yes, Bryan Adams. But this only applies to his US-held copyrights. Under the current Canadian law, he has to be dead 25 years before he can get them back.
This is why Adams was in Ottawa asking for changes that would bring Canadian provisions in line with what we see in the US. Adams first signed over copyrights to his work when he was 15. He still doesn’t have control over them and won’t until he’s dead 25 years.
All he wants is one word changed. “My proposal is that we change one word in the Copyright Act section 14 (1) which is from “25 years after death” to “25 years after assignment” — so one word, that’s all we need to do.”
Naturally, there will be pushback from people who benefit from the old rules. Let’s see what happens. The hearings should finish up next week.