Chapter 4 – United Empire: Canada and the Formation of the Berne Convention, 1839-86

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.