Most histories of international copyright focus on the more powerful members of the Berne Union – copyright exporters such as Britain, France, and Germany. I conclude that this focus has effectively deleted some of the most important conflicts and issues in international copyright history. This work, by focusing on Canada, shows a very different history of the Berne Convention. It shows a history of crisis in international copyright history that goes back much further than other international copyright histories claim.
The crisis that resulted from the 1967 conference in Stockholm led, for Canada, to a reengagement with the Berne Union, and sparked a new resolve that Canada should become a more influential and active player. Some Canadian government officials hoped that the discourse of development now being established within the Berne Union, having been absent when former colonies like Canada joined the Union, might be translated to apply to Canada. However, the idea that provisions for developing countries should apply to Canada conflicted with the established discourse that placed Canada as a middle power, associated with industrialized countries. Efforts to associate Canada with developing countries were unsuccessful.
Simultaneous diplomatic conferences would be held in 1971 to revise both the Berne Convention and the Universal Copyright Convention. The purpose of the 1971 conferences was to come to a more workable agreement after the 1967 attempt to revise the Berne Convention failed.
The 1971 conferences resulted in revised texts of the Berne Convention and the Universal Copyright Convention that were widely accepted. At the same time, the crisis of 1967 had shown that copyright revision would no longer be easy. Following the 1971 agreement, no further major revisions have been attempted. The 1971 text of the Berne Convention is still in force today.
This chapter outlines a period of relative distance between Canada and the Berne Union. Between the 1940s and 1960s the wheels of Canadian copyright reform had grown rusty. Canada’s 1924 Copyright Act had now been in place for over forty years, and its last revision had taken place in 1938. During this period of legislative inactivity, a policy shift occurred. Canada did not ratify the 1948 revision of the Berne Convention and moved, instead, to join a new international copyright treaty: the American-inspired Universal Copyright Convention.
It was not long after Canada entered formally into international copyright relations in 1924 that a conference was called to revise the Berne Convention, and Canadian diplomats for the first time represented their country at the Berne Union directly. Throughout the proceedings, it became apparent that Canada held common interests with other countries like Australia and New Zealand on issues such as broadcasting and performance rights. However, Canadian delegates did not take a prominent position on these issues; their instructions held them to playing only a minor and uncontroversial role. Against the backdrop of Canada’s changing relationship with Britain and the United States in the 1920s and 30s, this chapter outlines the new role of Canada in international copyright relations in the 1920s.
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.
Chapter 4 covers the formation of the Berne Union – the union of countries party to the Berne Convention – in 1886. That year, Canada was made a party to the new Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works as a British colony. Although it would not be long before Canada’s decision to join the Berne Union would be called an act of “profound…almost criminal – negligence” on the part of Canadian politicians, in 1886 the decision seemed based in a common sense of imperial unity firmly rooted in past policy.
This chapter shows that the Canadian government actively dampened domestic criticism and acceded to the convention without domestic consultation or discussion. Canadian decision-makers were committed to a view of copyright influenced by ideals of Imperial unity – a vision that understood the Berne Convention as being in the interests of Canadian authors and that did not view the encouragement of Canadian printing and publishing interests as a legitimate policy aim of copyright. Canadian policymakers were thus enrolled in a set of specific international copyright norms created by European and imperial powers intended to establish and maintain publishing monopolies in foreign and colonial markets.
The introduction to Canada and the Berne Convention, 1886-1971 gives a brief synopsis of Canadian international copyright history from 1886 to 1971 and outlines some of the major arguments to be explored in the book.
This entire chapter is available via a sample chapter published online by UBC Press here.