Why life expectancy is shaping copyright law

In Aprils’ budget the government of Canada announced plans to extend copyright protection for artists from 50 years to 70 years. This means that rather than enjoying copyright protection on recorded works for 50 years after release, artists and record companies won’t have to worry about songs passing into the public domain until much later. This update will bring Canada into line with the majority of nations, many of whom go even further and offer more than 70 years copyright protection. But what are the reasons behind this change and what does it mean for the industry and artists?

Free_musicIn short, we are living longer and thanks to the digital music economy, songs are increasingly generating consistent income long after their release. It is only fair therefore that the artists who have created these works continue to enjoy financial reward for their work. Protecting recording copyright also means that record labels will continue to take their share of revenue generated too, which may just mean they decide to put a little extra money into investing in the musical talent of the future. Without this extended protection, artists could well end up listening to a song that samples their own on the radio or in the background of an advert without having given permission or receiving any financial compensation.

Now aged 80, Canadian-born singer Leonard Cohen welcomed the move, telling press: “In just a few short years, songs we recorded in the late 1960s will no longer have copyright protection in Canada. Many of us in our 70s and 80s depend on income from these songs for our livelihood. We would deeply appreciate any adjustment that would avert a financial disaster in our lives.”

What does in the public domain mean?

Artists are automatically afforded copyright protection when a track is produced but when copyright protection expires, music is said to pass into the public domain. When this happens and the granular of what it means does depend a little on the country. However, in general something is accepted as being in the public domain when there is no law allowing ownership of it. At this point you are free to use a music recording in any way you see fit – you can use the recording in an advert, re-arrange it or sample it for your own composition for commercial or person al use.

How does Canada’s recording copyright compare?

Copyright laws are applied by territory, which means artists can enjoy differing length of protection in different areas of the world. Looking specifically at recording copyright, here is a look at how Canada’s new rules put them compared to some of the other major territories.World_copyright_terms.svg (1)


The US has one of the longest lasting recording copyrights at 95 years. After death the artist’s interest is passed on to any heirs.

The UK

Much like the rest of Europe, in most circumstances artists in the UK enjoy 70 years of copyright protection, details of which can be found in this government guide. There are slightly different rules applied if the musical works have not been published before so newly discovered works that have previously been unpublished are not treated in the same way.


Down Under, recording copyright continues for 70 years after the first commercial release of a track.


In the karaoke capital of the world, where people incidentally enjoy some of the longest lives, copyright protection is currently set at 50 years, though it’s possible this may change as part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which is currently being negotiated.

Other IP Rights

When any kind of change is applied in one area of intellectual property it tends to beg the question: are updates required elsewhere? As we live longer, it makes sense that innovators and creators would want to protect their works and investments for as long as they might live and potentially longer.

However, copyright is unusual in that it lasts for much longer than most other rights – the only exception being trademarks, which can last indefinitely providing they are renewed and put to genuine use in the course of trade.

Many passionate inventors may think it seems unlikely that patent and design terms might be altered in response to an aging population!