Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to the amendments put forward on Bill C-36, an act to establish the Library and Archives of Canada and to amend the Copyright Act .
I listened to many of the witnesses who came before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage and I heard their concerns and solutions. I have also heard today in the House a great deal of rancour about the way the legislation unfolded and was dealt with in sort of the dying days of the last session. Much of that was unfortunate. I urge members of the House to not allow the hurry and the politicking that went on at that time to get in the way of what I think is very important legislation which meets several needs at this time for some important institutions and also for writers in Canada.
I feel confident that the bill satisfies the needs of the two institutions in question, the Archives and the Library. I have gained assurances from the departments and the institutions that this merger is not a cost cutting exercise, that in fact the merger is for the very best reasons, to make this a storehouse of incredible capacity for the stories, histories and archives of Canada, and I completely support that.
I believe members of the House have to value the archival and the heritage nature of these institutions. We have to value the previous generations of Canadian writers, politicians and citizens. These institutions are all about that. We are bringing together two storehouses of information which are critical to the public good and to our heritage.
The bill will also redress some wrongs done to creators in the previous revision of the Copyright Act. I believe it does that in clauses 21 and 22. I support those clauses.
Clause 7 of the bill has created a lot of controversy, probably more controversy than the original change to unpublished copyright in 1997. The NDP supports any measure that protects the creators of works and their heirs.
Janet Lunn, who is the past chair of the Writers' Union of Canada, said it best in her testimony before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage on June 3. She stated:
A writer's legacy to his or her family is the copyright in the works created during his or her lifetime. Often a writer is able to leave little else. We don't as writers have large estates and stocks and bonds usually. Our works are our legacy.
In 1997 the perpetual copyright on unpublished works was changed to match copyright on published works, 50 years after the death of the author. A change like this does not take effect right away. Therefore works from authors who have died since 1948 were automatically protected for a 50 year grace period. Works from authors who died before 1948 only received protection for a five year transition period before implementation. When a similar change was instituted in the U.K., a 50 year transition period was considered fair notice and the U.S. chose a 25 year transition period.
Janet Lunn explained the unintended consequences of such a short transition period. She stated:
--works not published by the end of 1998, even if they have been published since, will come into the public domain on January 1, 2004. This means that while an author who died on January 1, 1949, is protected until 2048, an author who died one day earlier, on December 31, 1948, is protected only until January 1, 2004
Today in question period I asked the veterans affairs minister about a piece of legislation which targeted, or excluded, 25,000 widows of veterans because their husbands happened to pass away one day before the legislation offering assistance was put in place. We realize this incredibly arbitrary date will have such horrible, unintended consequences on 25,000 very vulnerable older women.
I mention that because there is some parallel here, that we have to look at people on either side of these arbitrary dates and try to establish what the consequences would be. I would say they are astounding and would have ripple effects in different sectors of the cultural industry.
Five years may seem a sufficient length of time to publish material, even though it can take that long or longer to convince a publisher of the worth of the material. However the five year transition period would mean a publisher would only enjoy the benefits of publishing material until January 1, 2004, which is a ridiculously short period of time to recoup the publishing costs of a book. In other jurisdictions that removed perpetual copyright on unpublished works, a decade long transition was planned.
Our oversight of 1997 needs to be redressed before the end of this year. It is important that this legislation has the copyright provisions in it.
We all are aware that a major revision of the Copyright Act is to be undertaken shortly and I welcome the opportunity to be part of that. What this is, though, is a stopgap measure to protect people from the unexpected consequences of the changes that were made in 1997. I think anyone in this House would agree that one day should not create such a discrepancy in the lives of our writers and publishers in this country.
The unintended consequences of the bill are the following.
Our authors do not have to publish their books in Canada. Nor do the publishers have to publish them. Given the situation now facing them, many will go elsewhere. They will go offshore and they will be published other places.
Other jurisdictions have lengthier copyright protection than we do. If unpublished work is not protected here for a fair amount of time, authors or their publishers can take the work out of the country for publication.
Is that loss of heritage what we want to bring about in a bill such as this? What about the loss to the publishing industry in this country, which is in fact struggling at all times anyway?
Therefore, I repeat that this section of the bill would not make it impossible for researchers or genealogists to use information from archives or collections. This is a point that has been made and I think it is a bogus point. They were able to do that under the perpetual copyright provisions pre-1997 and we all benefited from the books, essays, plays and movies created from people looking at old letters and papers that had never been published.
As always, the concept of “fair dealing” still applies, which means people could use copyright material for research and review, but the right to publish material in its entirety remains with the copyright owner until copyright expires.
I would like to return to the bill as a whole.
Both these institutions under discussion are charged with maintaining the documentary heritage of Canada. It is an important and a costly exercise.
Under the former finance minister, both these institutions saw their budget slashed in half. It is time that we focus again on these institutions and ensure they are economically viable. We need legislation in place which will give them the tools to move forward with this important merger. We need the copyright provisions in place that will protect writers, publishers and historians. I want to work to ensure that the legislation goes through before the House possibly comes to a premature end.
I and the New Democrats will be supporting the bill in its entirety.