Canadian Copyright Overhaul

Seems Canada is revamping its copyright laws. This is interesting, especially for visual artists in the collectors’ arena: the artist will be able to receive a portion of the sales proceeds from the sale of their works in some cases.

In most of the world, artists and authors receive royalties only for the first sale of their works or of authorized copies of their works (the “first-sale doctrine”). This means that once a work or authorized copy is sold, the artist or author has gotten his or her compensation for the work or authorized copy; the work is therefore free to be sold on the open market without bothering with paying again the artist or author.

This remains true in Canada (and in the rest of the world) for authors; you can still sell your copy of “Harry Potter” without paying J.K. Rowling a percentage of the sale price. Even a used bookstore can sell a used book without compensating the author, even if that copy of the book is a very collectable copy (a signed first edition, for example). But if artwork gets sold by a gallery or at auction, the artist cashes in if the sale is made in Canada.

Is this a good thing? That’s a “duh…yeah…” for the artist, especially for the collectable artist whose work sells for hundreds of thousands of dollars in the collectors’ market. If the artist is to receive a percentage of the sale (the Canadian group that represents artists, CARFAC, is pushing for a 5% royalty), the artist can end up profiting nicely from that work. But others may see this as the top of what can become a slippery slope. Why should artists and not authors benefit from this change? And, if authors also start to benefit, what happens when the law expands to the rare book collectors? Will they also have to pay a percentage to the author or the author’s estate until copyright expires?

Where does it end?

Understand, I’m all for artists and authors getting paid, and paid fairly, for their works of authorship; I’m just not convinced that this new law is the means by which to do that. Do I have another suggestion? Not really.

So we’ll wait and see what happens.