Remuneration Models for Musicians: A Focus on the Reversionary Right

April 23, 2019

This past fall, Canadian music icon Bryan Adams presented in front of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage to propose an amendment to the Canadian reversionary right [1]. Adams recommended altering section 14(1) of the Copyright Act from twenty-five years after death to twenty-five years after assignment. The goal of such an amendment is to balance authors’ rights with those who exploit their work through contract. However, significant pushback has come from Committee members and various legal professionals, questioning whether amending the reversionary right is as significant an issue as Adams suggests it is. New digital distribution models and platforms, such as Spotify and YouTube, are allowing musicians to independently create and release content. Record labels and music publishers, who are directly impacted by the right of reversion, are becoming less involved with the creative process. Why then, should Canadian lawmakers be concerned with addressing laws relating to more traditional distribution models?

Digitalization and globalization continues to impact the way that consumers interact with creative works, as well as the way that content creators interact with each other and the rest of the world. New collaborations with unique intersections between industries have become a necessity for creators to distinguish themselves in a world full of creative opportunities. The music industry has seen this first hand, with various performers, songwriters, and producers [2] working together and reinventing projects that would not have been a reality even just a decade back. Online platforms and digital distribution models have not only made accessing music easier and more cost effective for consumers, but have also increased convenience and efficiency for musicians. With these platforms and distribution models providing a continuous and accessible stream of opportunities for musicians globally, remaining competitive in today’s North American music scene has become increasingly difficult. Now, more than ever, musicians are facing the pressure of bringing something new to the table – something that will provide them with a collaborative, creative, and innovative edge.

A current topic of debate in Canada is whether the Copyright Act’s reversionary right impedes on such innovation and opportunities, especially when considering the highly competitive nature of the Canadian music scene. Through Adams' suggestion to amend the provision from twenty-five years after death, to twenty-five years after assignment, the goal is to balance an author’s rights to those who exploit their work through contract. This altered provision would more closely mirror the United States’ termination right of thirty-five years after assignment. Given Adams’ status and success, varying opinions and concerns have emerged from this proposition. Many Committee members were not shy in recounting their “Summer of ’69” nostalgic memories, leaving those in opposition of Adams’ recommendation wary of whether the issue itself is as significant as the rock’n’roll legend suggests.

Within two days of Adams addressing the Standing Committee, the Globe and Mail classified Adams’ copyright concerns as “charmingly retro.” The publication argued that in today’s Spotify-driven music industry, recording companies exploiting struggling young musicians is a “laughably secondary concern.” [3] However, it is exactly because of these new forms of technology drastically impacting the music industry, that Canada must revisit its existing laws. Though it is true that many issues and concerns have arisen with respect to digital distribution models such as Spotify, without addressing the underlying legal and policy concerns rooted within established legislation, it will remain difficult to effectively and completely address the complementary issues created by alternate modes of distribution. Regardless of Adams’ popularity, the issues surrounding Canada’s reversionary right are current and urgent. It is because of Adams’ social status, however, that many – both within the legislative regime and external to the practice of law or music industry – have noted and realized the long-term significance of the issue at hand.

Due to the global digitalization of the music industry, it is essential to give musicians and artists the opportunity to build upon their original works in order to provide for a collaborative and innovative means to remain competitive. I believe that through modifying the reversionary right within section 14(1) of Canadian Copyright Act in favour of Adams’ proposition, young Canadian musicians will be better positioned to promote and share their works in today’s ever-changing and digitalized music industry. Through giving Canadian musicians more autonomy over their works, Canada’s music industry will have a tremendous ability to benefit, regardless of the continuously changing paradigm and digitalization of the industry.

This is a revised abstract of a personal research essay written under the supervision of Professor Saptarishi Bandopadhyay at Osgoode Hall Law School. To read a full examination and analysis of the topic, please contact Alessia directly.

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[1] Briefly, in Canada, a “reversionary right” refers to an author being able to regain ownership of their copyright(s), regardless of the specific assignment period that may be prescribed by contract, twenty-five years after their death. [2] For the purposes of this article, “songwriters” refers to individuals who write compositions and songs, “performers” refers to those who play and perform the composition, and “producers” include those who produce sound recordings. An individual may be one or all of the abovementioned parties at the same time. [3] Kate Taylor, “Bryan Adams’ Copyright Concerns are Charmingly Retro” (20 September 2018), online: <https://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/article-bryan-adamss-copyright-concerns-are-charmingly-retro/>.