February 17, 2019

Creative Solopreneur

Listen to my brief video about creator treaties.

Did you know that international treaties determine creator rights? They also determine how we can sell our work.

The questions they answer are far-ranging.

  • What’s a compilation and can it be sold?
  • How can computer software be protected?
  • Must you live in a country to have your copyright in that country recognized?
  • Do you have to register your copyright?

After signing a treaty, governments in each country have time to pass the appropriate copyright legislation. After the legislation is passed, the country then ratifies the treaty.

Despite the overall terms of the treaties, each country interprets clauses in different ways. They try to answer:

  • which work by creators has legality as a piece of intellectual property,
  • how that property can be commercialized, and
  • who has the right to consume a creators’ work for free (a concept captured in the phrase “public domain”).

The balance between these three rights alternates depending on the authority, popularity and power of the people arguing for each right in each country.

Copyright Commercialization

In the early days of copyright, commercialization formed the only property right worth protecting. Soon after Gutenberg discovered his printing press and printers hired writers to create books, competing interests began fighting.

In England, the government initially passed laws providing specific printers with economic benefits and the responsibility to ensure censorship.

Later John Milton and John Locke complained about the system in place. The two argued in favour of a free exchange of ideas. Legislators revised copyright to create a public domain.

Public Domain

A similar argument took place in Paris almost two centuries later.

Famous author Victor Hugo defended the public domain, as shown in the following 1886 quote:

The book, as a book, belongs to the author, but as a thought, it belongs – the word is not too extreme – to the human race. All intelligences, all minds, are eligible, all own it. If one of these two rights, the right of the writer and the right of the human mind, were to be sacrificed, it would certainly be the right of the writer, because the public interest is our only concern, and that must take precedence in anything that comes before us.  [Numerous sounds of approval.]But, as I just said, this sacrifice is not necessary.”

Creator’s Intellectual Property

Hugo also became a chief proponent of “author rights” as the most important form of property right that exists. Unlike other forms, he said, the idea of an author’s right hurts no one since it covers an entirely new creation.

He became so incensed about the subject, he founded The International Literary and Artistic Association (ALAI), “an independent learned society dedicated to studying and discussing legal issues arising in connection with the protection of the interests of creative individuals” that still exists today.

Copyright Duality in Canada

These two distinct traditions, an English-speaking one and a French-speaking one, are encompassed in today’s Canadian Copyright Act.

  • In French-speaking countries, rights not specifically spelled out in law are assumed to belong to creators, Copyright laws usually include moral rights so creators can protect their reputations.
  • English-speaking countries tend to focus on protecting economic benefits for copyright owners, regardless of who actually created the work with rights not specifically mentioned in law left unprotected.

Like the international situation, the Canadian Copyright Act provides differing levels of rights to creators, distributors and users based on popular trends. The 1997 revisions took economic rights away from creators to give them to educational institutions.

Canada Copyright Act to be Revised

Another revision will occur later this year or next, primarily due to our signature on the NAFTA treaty last autumn. This article from last fall outlines what was expected. I haven’t found any clear outline of what we actually have to do under the deal now that it’s passed.

The Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology just finished hearings about how it should update the Copyright Act. If you’d like to read the submissions, they are available on the committee website, where presumably the report will also appear once it’s ready.

Europe also has a revision of copyright rules underway that are continuing to evolve based on the discussions around Brexit.

Given that copyright laws are being updated in Canada and elsewhere right now, I thought it was a good time to highlight the international treaties that enable all creators to own and sell our work.

Here’s my brief infographic to give you an idea of which treaties you want to understand.

Treaties for creators

About the author 

Tracey Arial

Tracey Arial helps Canadians grow with notable nonfiction and urban agriculture.

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