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Canadian authors and musicians sign open letter to Heritage minister demanding creator-first policies and copyright reform

Minister of Canadian Heritage Mélanie Joly

Minister of Canadian Heritage Mélanie Joly

More than 1,000 notable Canadian authors, theatre professionals, and musicians have signed an open letter to Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly asking for consideration during the federal government’s ongoing review of its cultural policies. The signatories include writers such as Dennis Lee, Frances Itani, Gary Barwin, Rosemary Sullivan, and Rudy Wiebe, alongside musicians such as Alanis Morissette, Tegan and Sara, Emily Haines, Gord Downie, and Gordon Lightfoot.

In its letter, the Focus on Creators coalition suggests content creators are being being squeezed out of a marketplace, resulting in the elimination of “middle-class artist[s]” and opportunities for younger generations, who now must seek work outside the creative sector. It continues to suggest that the laws and regulations put into place during the 1990s to ensure that creators, technology innovators, and consumers would all benefit from digital developments have failed. “Instead, our work is increasingly used to monetize technology without adequately remunerating its creators. Income and profit from digital use of our work flow away from the creative class to a concentrated technology industry.”

The letter was initiated as a co-operative effort between Music Canada and the Writers’ Union of Canada. According to Writers’ Union executive director John Degen, the two organizations have been outspoken about the cultural policy review and the five-year mandated review of the Copyright Act, scheduled for 2017. “We saw and heard each other being vocal, recognized that our members were facing a common issue – the disappearance of the middle-class professional artist in Canada – and so picked up the phone. And then we started inviting others,” says Degen. Members from the League of Canadian Poets, the Canadian Independent Music Association, Canadian Music Publishers Association, Playwrights Guild of Canada, and the Canadian Country Music Association are represented on the list of signatories.

Ultimately, Degen says, the Focus on Creators’s ask is simple. “We’re congratulating the Heritage minister on her wide-ranging and incredibly ambitious cultural policy review process, and we’re asking that any policy changes that come out of this review be aimed at encouraging and inspiring professional artists to stay in the business of culture,” he says. “The way things have been going, on the copyright front especially, with tens of millions in lost revenue per year, Canada could lose a generation (or two) of full-time authors and musicians.” For the Writers’ Union, the goal is to ensure that the “2017 copyright review … include[s] meaningful reform to fix the broken educational copying market. Copyright royalty cheques for copying in schools will have withered by 80 per cent before the copyright review even begins. That is a killing loss for culture.”

On Nov. 30, Focus on Creators is hosting a panel on Parliament Hill with professional musicians and authors to discuss the cultural policy and copyright review. The event will be attended by lawmakers and policy staff, and is open to the public.