14 May 2008


Hands up if you understand the rules, pros and cons around copyright as they bear on you as a creator and consumer of original material.

You don't see my hand up.

The little I do know comes from having listened to several presentations, and reading what I can, especially the weekly column written by Michael Geist published in the Ottawa Citizen and elsewhere. Read them, and much more, at his blog.

In his most recent column, on crown copyright, Geist asserts that "crown copyright costs Canadians hundreds of thousands of dollars while being used as a tool to suppress public criticism of government programs." Geist cites examples of use of crown copyright being denied for political reasons. In the most recent year for which records are available "crown copyright licensing generated less than $7,000 in revenue, yet the system cost over $200,000 to administer."

Copyright I may not understand, but a money losing proposition I do -- having been involved in my share.

Discussion on Canadian copyright legislation, with a new act expected to be introduced in the Commons soon, is one reason why it would be valuable to have a way for the Canadian genealogy community to speak in unison.

In the meantime, you may have noticed a new Creative Commons Licence logo is now found in the left hand column. You may freely republish for non-commercial purposes any material in this blog for which I own copyright. Commercial reproduction requires permission. Any reuse should acknowledge the source as Anglo-Celtic Connections, copyright John D Reid 2008, and include a link to the original where feasible.


WJM said...

Copyright is a very serious issue when it comes to doing archival research, and, sadly, the powers that be have not taken the interests of researchers to heart when it comes to the ability to copy AND RE-PUBLISH archival documents.

Not only is there the perpetual crown copyright problem in Canada, there is also the idiotic term of copyright in unpublished works by those who died between 1949 and 1998. (Papers by those who died in or before 1948 are already out of copyright in Canada; papers by those who died in 1999 or after will have the same copyright term as published works.)

A real-world example: the published works of William Lyon Mackenzie King, died. 1950, are public domain in Canada and most of the world, but his papers will not be until 2049. Sadly, LAC, instead of fighting against these rules, acceded to them over 10 years ago when the law was being revised. It should be re-opened, and LAC should be leading the charge, both on private papers and on Crown copyright - but they won't.

Also, in Canada, we have to contend with the overly-long transitional term problem, similar to the existing one here, for private papers held in the U.K. (where much of Canada's documentary history is held), and on public papers in the U.K. as well.

WJM said...

Now that the Act has been released, the photography provisions are also worrisome.

The ownership of copyright in photographs will now always be the person who took the photograph. If you hand your camera to a stranger while on vacation, and ask them to snap a shot of your family in front of the Grand Canyon, you will not own the copyright.

Also, if you have a commissioned personal photograph, like a wedding or school portrait, the photographer is the owner. This is already the case for all practical terms, but in the current Act, there is a presumption that the person buying the photography is the owner, unless agreed otherwise. Virtually all photographers make you sign away that right; now you won't have that right to sign away.

Unlike in most developed countries, there will be no right to prevent the photographer (or whoever he or she may license the photography copyright to) to use your image. Nor will there be, as many countries have, a right for the subject of the commissioned portrait to use it, not even for private, domestic purposes. Scanning your own school, wedding, etc., portrait, would not be permitted.

Finally, the term of the copyright will be the life of the photographer +50 years. Unlike in many countries, there is no requirement to date or sign the photograph, so the already existing problem of difficulties in assigning authorship to photographs, determining whether they are or are not under copyright, determining the expiry of that copyright, and determining the ownership of that copyright, will be exacerbated in the future.

The one small mercy is that these provisions will only be prospective, not retroactive.

If you have ever used photographs in a paper or online family history project or publication, you can see that the implications for copyright chill are enormous. It is going to make it difficult for future generations to make use of what will be their collective past.

The family history community, as well as historians of all types, should properly concerned about the implications of giving photographers everything they have demanded of the copyright act, and giving the consumer, the public interest, and the interest of posterity nothing in return.