Chapter 5 – Berne Buster: The Struggle for Canadian Copyright Sovereignty, 1887-1908


Shortly after joining the Berne Convention in 1886, the Canadian government reversed position; for years following Canada’s initial assent to join the treaty as a British colony, Canada would attempt unsuccessfully to denounce the agreement. This chapter discusses the years in which Canada fought against the Berne Convention and for copyright sovereignty.

For many, the Berne Convention symbolized the forward march of international law, civilization, and progress. In some countries, however, this idea met up against national sentiment and nationalist trade policies. This was particularly true in Canada. The Canadian National Policy was implemented in the 1870s by the federal government and its protectionist approach would come to be reflected in other areas of government policy, including copyright.

Between 1889 and the early twentieth century, domestic lobby groups formed and were successful in enrolling the Canadian government in their efforts to inscribe a counter-hegemonic vision of copyright in Canadian law. During this time, Canada was able to establish some resources for independent analysis of its own copyright situation, without relying on British knowledge and expertise to the extent that it had in the past. This helped Canada to formulate an independent copyright policy and to resist, to some extent, international pressures.


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