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Music community in mixed mood as new North American trade treaty gets closer to ratification

By | Published on Friday 13 December 2019


With much of the UK music community presumably somewhat depressed about political developments at home overnight, let’s spend a few minutes looking at a big political moment that occurred across the Atlantic earlier this week, and the music industry’s response to it.

Because, on Tuesday, US President Donald Trump reached a deal with the Democrats in Congress over that new trade deal between America, Canada and Mexico, which will replace the old North American Free Trade Agreement. It’s relevant to the music industry because it contains a bunch of clauses regarding copyright.

The US record industry previously responded to the new trade deal when it was first agreed between the governments of the US, Canada and Mexico last year. It confirmed back then that there were ups and downs for the music business in the new agreement.

The treaty will see Canada finally increase its copyright term for songs from life plus 50 to life plus 70 years. But it also includes the tech-sector-friendly safe harbours of American’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act which few in the music industry like. And which the music community would like see restricted in the US, rather than extended into Mexico and Canada.

This week it was the music publishers responding to the latest developments regarding the new trade deal. Though they expressed more or less the same viewpoint as the record labels. That said, Margaret McGuffin of Music Publishers Canada mainly honed in on the positive, urging her country’s government to get going with the copyright term extension as soon as possible.

“Enacting the term extension provisions of the Canada-US-Mexico Agreement will ensure that Canadian songs and scores continue to be heard daily on the radio, on streaming services, in video games and in film, television and other screen-based productions around the world”, she said. “It is imperative that the term extension provisions in [the agreement] be enacted immediately, without any unnecessary delay and no conditions”.

David Israelite, the boss of America’s National Music Publishers Association, also welcomed the term extension, but honed in more on the safe harbour side.

“The US-Mexico-Canada Agreement includes important copyright provisions that will greatly affect songwriters”, he said earlier this week. “We are encouraged by the term expansion for Canadian copyright law that is included in the deal, but remain concerned that the DMCA safe harbours in the agreement continue to devalue creators’ work and protect internet service providers who should be doing more to prevent piracy and infringement”.

Meanwhile John Phelan, Director General of the global grouping for music publishers, ICMP, commented: “This deal is as crucial for the music industry as it is complex. We would warmly welcome the prospect of [an extended] copyright term in Canada – it’s vital that the term there arrives at a level which is standard worldwide. Copyright is the bedrock of creative sectors”.

“That said”, he went on, “the copyright exemptions for certain online services are a troubling trait of trade talks. The industry has made every effort to provide digital music and drive its value for songwriters and composers. So-called safe harbours risk real regress on music’s value – something we’ll continue to be vigilant about”.

Having won the support of his political opponents back home, Trump will now put pressure on Canada to ratify the treaty as soon as possible, Mexico having already done so.