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Home » Officer Columns » Copyright Extended and Anti-Union Bill C-377 Moves Forward


Copyright Extended and Anti-Union Bill C-377 Moves Forward

  -  AFM Vice President from Canada

 

Prior to May of this year, the copyright on sound recordings in Canada extended 50 years after release. In a surprise move, the Harper government, without any public consultation or discussion, moved to extend protection to 70 years as part of the budget. Sadly, the change did not include authors and publishers, where copyright protects the song for the life of the author plus 50 years.

Understandably, the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN) applauded the increase for sound recordings, but was dismayed by the oversight of authors and publishers. In pressuring the government for an explanation, SOCAN learned that the rest “would be dealt with later.” Canada’s Copyright Act is scheduled for mandatory review in 2017.

Some columnists have suggested that the change came about due to heavy lobbying by Music Canada, which represents the major record labels. And, that it is a direct result of Music Canada’s increasing concern about public domain recordings appearing on store shelves in Canada. A Canadian company called Stargrove Entertainment began selling two Beatles recordings cheaper than those available through Universal Music. They were, of course, subsequently picked up by Walmart. Along with Can’t Buy Me Love and Love Me Do, additional titles from Bob Dylan, The Beach Boys, and The Rolling Stones were also on the list.

Update on Bill C-377

Pressured by the determination of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), the conservative-controlled Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs shut down debate of bill C-377. While 75 organizations and 249 individuals had formally requested an opportunity to testify, only three meetings were held with a total of 23 witnesses, representing 7% of the requests—an extraordinary example of Harper-style democracy.

The list of those denied their request to speak includes some of the country’s largest unions, smaller locals, and union members themselves, including Confédération des syndicats nationaux, Labourers International Union of North America, Canadian Teachers Federation, Canada’s Building Trades Unions, and Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions.

The private members’ legislation, innocuously titled “An Amendment to the Income Tax Act,” will impose unprecedented reporting standards upon labour organizations in Canada. Not only will unions be required to publicly disclose all financial information and transactions of more than $5,000, but elected officials will be required to account for the amount of time they commit to particular activities.

C-377 is being sold by MP Hiebert and his political allies as a mechanism to align Canadian reporting standards with a counterpart programme south of the border, the Office of Labor-Management Standards, as well as a means to uphold union transparency. Unless amended, the bill also reaches into the private information of union members, such as their pensions.

If passed into law, the legislation will almost certainly face constitutional challenges in the courts, especially over conflicts with the Privacy Act. What is clear is that C-377 remains a marker of ideology, and most certainly an illustration of the government’s anti-union legacy.

Findings from a forthcoming article in Labour/le travail, co-authored with Dr. Sean Tucker at the University of Regina, reveal that supporting the legislation is a thin line of Conservative allies, namely the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), Merit Contractors, and LabourWatch. Led by lobbyist and former House of Commons researcher, Terrance Oakey, Merit has helped to identify the true purpose of C-377: to function as a mechanism through which the anti-union lobby can effectively counter labour’s political messaging and activism. With Canada on the brink of a federal election, the passage of C-377 could provide Merit and other Conservative allies with the tools to help generate support for right-to-work legislation as strategic expenditures and union officials’ time are exposed through a Canada Revenue Agency website.

In my opinion, Canadian unions are already fully transparent to the people they should be accountable to—the members. Giving the public access to union financials creates an unfair advantage for the employers with whom we bargain.







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