CMPA, WGC spar over authorship in Copyright Act hearing

Members of the organizations went before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage to argue who should be considered the author of a screen-based work.

Authorship of screen-based projects was the major talking point Tuesday as members of the CMPA and WGC went before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage as part of the government’s ongoing review of the Copyright Act.

In the WGC’s comments, director of policy Neal McDougall requested the Act be amended so that screenwriters and directors are jointly the authors of cinematographic works. “Producers are not authors,” McDougall told the committee. “Moreover, copyright protects the expression of ideas, not ideas themselves, so while producers may on occasion provide screenwriters and directors with ideas and concepts, it is screenwriters and directors who in turn express those ideas and concepts in copyright-able form.”

The WGC’s proposed amendment to the Act, said McDougall, would give screenwriters and directors a “strong position in which to bargain and enter into contracts with others in the content-value chain.”

The CMPA’s chief legal officer Erin Finlay said the producers’ association “strenuously” opposes the writers’ and directors’ efforts to be made joint authors of copyright in a cinematic graphic work, however. “The market has long ago worked out this question, and no change is required to the Copyright Act regarding the authorship of ownership of a cinematographic work.”

Stephen Stohn, a long-time producer on the Degrassi franchise and head of SkyStone Media, also told the panel that producers, for all practical purposes, have been treated as the author throughout the Canadian and U.S. industries. “The fair rights and equitable remuneration for writers and directors have been successfully settled over… decades through extensive negotiation of industry-wide union and guild agreements by all the industry participants. TV and filmmaking is a collaborative endeavour  producers bring together all the creative elements to get a project from concept to screen,” he said.

Stohn used the long-running Degrassi franchise, which includes more than 500 episodes over four decades, as an example of his issue with the WGC’s proposed amendment. “To suggest that a screenwriter that we hire to write episode 487, long after the characters, settings, formats, scenes, plot, storylines and music have already been in place for years and years  that they ought to be considered the author of that episode is simply wrong,” he said.

Outside of the authorship discussion, CMPA’s Finlay also emphasized the need to amend the Copyright Act to protect the Canadian cultural economy from both piracy and foreign-based digital companies such as Apple, Netflix and Facebook.

Of the need to clamp down on content piracy, Finlay said: “The current tools under the Copyright Act are ineffective against large-scale commercial piracy. We ask that the Act be amended to expressly allow rights holders to obtain injunctive relief against intermediaries, including by site blocking and de-indexing orders.” Earlier this month, the CRTC denied an application from the FairPlay Canada coalition requesting the commission institute a website-blocking regime to address piracy. The commission denied the proposal on the grounds that it does not have jurisdiction to consider the proposal under the Telecommunications Act.

On the topic of unregulated foreign digital-video services operating in the Canadian market, Finlay said: “New ways of delivering content will eventually make the retransmission regime in the Copyright Act obsolete. Since inception, this regime has generated approximately $600 million for the Canadian creative industries. The retransmission regime must be modernized and made technologically neutral to account for online and mobile uses of copyright-protected works.”

The review of the Copyright Act was announced by Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains and former Minister of Canadian Heritage Mélanie Joly in December 2017.

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