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Canada Extends Copyright for Musical Works by 20 Years

The change will bring the country in line with international standards of "life plus 70 years" after an author's death.

Canada’s Parliament has extended copyright protection for musical works by 20 years — from life-plus-50 years to life-plus-70 years — as set out in the terms of a 2018 trade agreement between Canada, Mexico and the U.S.

The extension reached royal assent on June 23 and will come into force on a date still to be determined by the government.

The change will bring Canada’s copyright framework for authors of musical works in line with international standards — a longtime goal of the country’s music publishers and a requirement of the new Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA), which replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). In the U.S. and the European Union, copyright protection was already good for 70 years after the author’s death, while in Mexico that protection is good for 100 years after death.

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The rights are not retroactive. Works currently in the public domain will remain so.

“Except as otherwise expressly provided by this Act, the term for which copyright subsists is the life of the author, the remainder of the calendar year in which the author dies, and a period of 70 years following the end of that calendar year,” the amended protection for “musical work” will read.

Death is a key part of the legislation. For example, in the case of Canadian folk songwriter Stan Rogers, who passed away in 1983, his estate will benefit for another 20 years due to the change. But the songs and compositions of artists who died in 1971 or earlier are already in the public domain.

Amendments to the law refer to cases where there is more than one author — “copyright subsists for the life of whichever of those authors dies last” — and other subsections deal with the “term of copyright in certain posthumous works.”

The Parliamentary action will not affect copyright protection for sound recordings in Canada, which already cover “70 years after first fixation” — meaning when the song was first recorded, on any format, including tape, vinyl and digital.

During Canada’s last copyright review in 2017, the music industry made it a priority to push to extend protection for compositions, and the government negotiated a 30-month delay for implementing the copyright extension for musical works.

“We are very happy that the government has implemented it as negotiated and without measures designed to weaken the copyright framework,” Music Canada CEO Patrick Rogers said in an emailed statement. “This reflects the concept that cultural industries understand that strong copyright for some leads to a stronger copyright framework for all.”

“Most of our international trading partners have all moved to a life plus 70 copyright term — in some cases, decades ago,” says Fraser Turnbull, legal counsel and privacy officer for the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada. “So it’s been a long time coming for Canada.”