Advocating on Behalf of Independent Musicians: Copyright Reform and Corporate Consolidation
Brian Fauteux / University of Alberta

Spotify banner outside NYSE on opening day
People walk by the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on the morning that the music streaming service Spotify begins trading shares at the NYSE on April 3, 2018 in New York City.

Corporate streaming music services have brought forth few benefits for independent musicians. Meagre payouts, limited catalogues, and predictable algorithms combine to reward a shrinking number of bestselling popstars. Despite these issues, streaming services are often characterized by narratives of progress and superiority (infinite choices, new avenues of “discovery,” low prices). 

This narrative routinely makes its way into popular writing on streaming music. A recent Pitchfork column about the fusion of indie and pop in the 2010s describes streaming music listening as “detached, fully and finally, from the Earth. Recorded music simply materializes around us whenever we need it.” This recalls the concept of remediation, made evident by these popular assessments of our digital-musical-ecosystem whereby new media are “presenting themselves as refashioned and improved versions of other media” (Bolter and Grusin 1999, pp. 14-15). In a more blunt and messianic expression, Spotify is “the savior” of the music business.

In this introductory column (the first of three on issues of equity in the streaming music industry), I describe the process of participating in Canada’s copyright review process. In September of last year, Brianne Selman (University of Winnipeg) and I appeared before The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage: Remuneration Models for Artists and Creative Industries on behalf of The Cultural Capital Project, a collaborative research project that investigates issues of fair payment for creators (which also includes Andrew deWaard, UCSD). The purpose of our appearance, and subsequent written brief, was to argue that in an industry characterized by market consolidation, an imbalance of power between creators and big businesses is one of the largest factors that prevents fair remuneration for artists.

Members of the Cultural Capital Project, Brianne Selman and the author, speak to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage during the hearing “Reumneration Models for Artists in Creative Industries.” More info at

Canadian musicians are at the mercy of non-Canadian media and tech companies. In 2015, Billboard reported that Universal, Sony, and Warner control roughly 86% of the North American recording and publishing market. LiveNation and AEG monopolize the live concert and ticketing business; SiriusXM dictates the satellite radio market and has purchased Pandora; and the digital streaming media sector has come to be dominated by Apple, Google, Amazon, Netflix, and Spotify. Further, the top 1% of artists account for 77% of recorded music income (Thompson 2014), and radio playlists and Billboard charts are dominated by just a handful of the record industry’s biggest superstars (Craven McGinty 2018). 

In light of these trends, our submission advanced recommendations that sought to rethink copyright and the role of the public domain in the Canadian music industries. A few of these recommendations include: an increase of public funding dedicated to independent artists; to recognize that user rights and the creative commons have value for Canadian creativity and that these should be protected; and to consider automatic rights reversions as a way to mitigate the ill effects of copyright term extensions. At this time, Canada had signed on to the USMCA, which includes a copyright term extension from 50 years after the author’s death to 70 years, an extension that industry representatives were collectively in favor of.

More specifically, we suggest that the federal government should prioritize relationships with provincial and municipal governments, particularly when it comes to policies and initiatives that fund and support live music venues, small record labels, do-it-yourself and artist-run spaces, and campus and community radio stations. Our submission argues that a more thorough consideration of public domain principles in our thinking around the digital music industries and copyright/cultural policies is essential if we are to take issues of equity and sustainability in the music industries seriously. This is an issue made all the more pertinent as conservative provincial governments in Canada have been slashing funding to their investment to arts and culture. In Ontario, funding for the Ontario Music Fund was reduced from $15 million to $7 million by the province’s Progressive Conservative government budget. More recently in Alberta, a budget rife with cuts to essential public services projects that over 50% of the province’s Arts and Creative Industries budget will be gone by the year 2023. 

With respect to rights reversions, we argue that copyright term extensions do not hold up to scrutiny in cultural economic theory (Giblin 2018) and that most of the commercial value of a sound recording is extracted in the first 10 years; so a 70 years after death term provides no real additional incentive for creators (Gowers Review of Intellectual Property 2018, p. 52). To mitigate the ill effects of the term extension we encourage a careful consideration of automatic rights reversions, with rights reverting back to authors after a period of no greater than 25 years. This echoes other arguments that have been put forth, including Bryan Adams (yes, that Bryan Adams) advocating for rights reversions with the ability of creators to reclaim ownership of creations 25 years after they have been given away (see also Rebecca Giblin’s Conversation post on Adams’s appearance). This recommendation offers some balance to the historically imbalanced relationship between artists and record labels, where creators are often pressured to sign away their rights for life.

Musician Bryan Adams before standing committee on Canadian Heritage
Canadian rock star Bryan Adams appears as a witness at a Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage in Ottawa on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018.

Reflecting on this process, it felt as though our ideas were heard and that the Committee was in support of initiatives to improve the livelihoods of Canadian musicians. However, the report published by the Committee that followed the meetings and briefs, “Shifting Paradigms,” advanced a status quo narrative of continued copyright protection that was pushed by industry representatives.

Music industry representatives and lobbyists were collectively in favor of extending the copyright term (these can be read in our summaries of their briefs and presentations). On a positive note, the report did make recommendations that urge tech companies and streaming companies to support the work of Canadian creators, but there is very little in the way of tangible policy suggestions that provide an indication that these corporations will comply. Much of this discussion fell within an emphasis on the “Value Gap” in Canada’s music industries. 

Music Canada, a non-profit “trade association that promotes and protects the value of music and advocates on behalf of its creators,” defines the Value Gap as “the result of the marked disparity between the value returned to those artists creating and developing artistic content, and the online sources and telecommunications corporations who benefit greatly from the distribution of said content” (Bambrick 2019). Further, “Shifting Paradigms” did indicate support for an artist protection provision (in its Recommendation 14) and this is one area in which our submission and brief is represented. However, we recommended a Copyright Act amendment that would make a rights reversion automatic, so it will remain to be seen how this recommendation is applied. We are concerned that if the rights reversion is not properly enforced, the situation will be one in which artist contracts are restructured to avoid this protection provision.  

Just as there are issues with concentration in the telecommunications and broadcasting industry, as the “Value Gap” report indicates, the same can be said for the record industry (Music Canada lists its three members as the Canadian subsidiaries of the Big 3 record labels: Sony Music Entertainment Canada Inc., Universal Music Canada Inc., and Warner Music Canada Co.). More substantial copyright reform would advance a digital-musical ecosystem that provides fair compensation to artists and acknowledges listening norms and practices of everyday users.

Streaming music services are now the dominant music providers in Canada as in much of the world, and at the same time, the record industry’s increasing concentration has meant the continued persistence of a power dynamic that marginalizes independent musicians. Our hope is that our research may help to protect a vibrant and diverse Canadian music industry and that more space can be occupied by artists and non-industry representatives in the policy-making process as well as in the reporting on issues of equity in the music industries. 

Notes: “The Cultural Capital Project: Digital Stewardship and Sustainable Monetization for Canadian Independent Musicians” is a SSHRC-funded research project led by Brian Fauteux, Brianne Selman, and Andrew deWaard, with research assistance from Dan Colussi, Anna Dundas-Richter, and William Northlich.

Media Credits:

  1. People walk by the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on the morning that the music streaming service Spotify begins trading shares at the NYSE on April 3, 2018 in New York City.
  2. Members of the Cultural Capital Project, Brianne Selman and the author, speak to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage during the hearing “Remuneration Models for Artists in Creative Industries.” More info at
  3. Canadian rock star Bryan Adams appears as a witness at a Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage in Ottawa on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018.


Bambrick, H. (2019). Foreward. Closing the value gap: How to fix safe harbours and save the creative middle class. Music Canada. Retrieved from

Bolter, J., & Grusin, R. (1999). Remediation: Understanding new media. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Giblin, R. (2018). A new copyright bargain? Reclaiming lost culture and getting authors paid. Columbia Journal of Law & the Arts, 41, 369-411.

Gowers Review of Intellectual Property. (2006). December. Retrieved from 

Craven McGinty, J. (2018). Superstars are hogging Billboard’s Hot 100. The Wall Street Journal. 14 December. Retrieved from

Thompson, D. (2014). The Shazam effect. The Atlantic. December. Retrieved from 

Move over Marshall McLuhan! Live from the Arctic!

by: Faye Ginsburg / NYU

Igloolik crew

Igloolik crew

Despite Canada’s longstanding concern that it is on the periphery of the U.S., it seems to be in the avant garde of certain kinds of media theory and practice that have much to teach us. Canadian media scholars such as Marshall McLuhan addressed the sensory, temporal, and spatial regimes elaborated by various media forms, while the political economist Harold Innis cautioned us to be wary of the speed of electronic communication and its capacity to centralize cultural and political power. The development of projects at the National Film Board of Canada such as Challenge for Change in the late 1960s, shifted the paradigm, recognizing the possibilities of small format, easy-to-use portable video (then in its early years) to put cameras into the hands of Canada’s marginalized others. Over the 1970s, as satellite-based television made its way into the Canadian Arctic, Inuit people began exploring the possibilities that these combinations of media forms offered for local productions that could be distributed over the vast expanses of Canada’s north. Zacharias Kunuk, a young Inuit man at that time, had the vision to turn these technologies into vehicles for cultural expression of Inuktitut lives and histories, forming a media production group called Igloolik Isuma, turning his friends and family members into a remarkable team of non-professional actors who recreated the stories of the transformations of their own lives over the last century, starting with works such as Qaggig in 1988, and quickly moving on to create the remarkable series entitled Nunavut, which is also the name of the recently formed Inuit-controlled territory where Zach’s home settlement is located. The series Nunavut was a staple not only of TV Northern Canada (the pan-Arctic satellite station that preceded the current first national indigenous cable television station, Aboriginal People’s Television Network) but which also screened at MoMA in New York and the Pompidou Centre in Paris.

Fast forward to 2001, and the premiere at the Cannes Film Festival of Kunuk’s first feature, the epic recreation of a well-known Inuit legend, Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner at the Cannes Film Festival; there, this first film ever made in the Inuit language of Inuktitut, received the coveted Camera D’Or award for best first feature, and went on to stunning critical and theatrical success, picking up many more awards along the way. Now Kunuk and his crew are busy shooting their second feature, a Danish co-production entitled, The Journals of Knud Rasmussen, based on the writings of the famous Inuit-Danish explorer who traveled throughout the Arctic in the 1920s exploring the transformations of Inuit life that were occurring in the early 20th century, when Inuit shamans first encountered Christian missionaries. The journals provide the story line for a film that provides an Inuit perspective on that fateful historical encounter. But never content to think conventionally, Kunuk and company have established an incredible web site from the film’s production location, that allows us to follow what’s happening on the film set on a daily basis, while also sending us back to Rasmussen’s journals, and the key characters he met in his journeys through the Arctic. Daily blogs by an “embedded” journalist and (of course) their own anthropologist, provide different perspectives, while quick time movies show us how multiple languages (English, French, Inuktitut, Danish) are negotiated, as well as how props and food are managed in this remote Arctic locale. Pop ups offer a linked glossary for foreign or more arcane words. Background bios on key personnel – on and off screen – illuminate the community-based approach to filmmaking that Kunuk and his partner Norman Cohn have perfected. (My personal favorite is the interview with the lead sled dog, Tooguyuk who “describes” the trials of learning commands in both “Greenlandic” and “Igloolik”, and talks about looking forward to his “girlfriend having puppies so I’m excited to be a daddy”)

The site is beautifully designed in every sense, and presents a remarkable demonstration of how this technology can be successfully “indigenized” (to pick up a theme from the last column I wrote) to help Inuit school kids, college students in New York, Maori colleagues in New Zealand, and many others, learn about their filmmaking, the Arctic, indigenous lives, missionization, and new ways of “understanding media” and its possibilities in the 21st century.

I recently interviewed Katarina Soukup, website producer, about the project and its origins.

Isuma has wanted for a long, long time to use the Internet to connect the remote Arctic with people around the world, a way to bring people to Igloolik without the extreme expense and inconvenience of traveling here, as well as to allow Inuit to remain in their communities and out on the land without losing touch with the 21st century. One dream is a nomadic media lab/TV station out on the land connected to the Internet. It just has not been technically possible until now. When we go to the remote outpost camp this weekend to shoot exterior scenes, we will still be uploading reports to the website, thanks to a high-speed data satellite phone. And when wireless broadband is launched in Nunavut (anticipated next month), this kind of remote, nomadic computing will be much less expensive.

What are the project’s goals?
The goals with the educational website are to connect people to Inuit culture through the Internet and our films. We have been creating materials for the educational market for about 2 or 3 years (e.g. the Isuma Inuit Culture Kit), and the site is another step in this direction. The Rasmussen micro site and the live from the set are building blocks of a large site that will be launched in fall 2005. The website targets youth ages 12 and up, as well as their teachers and parents. The project employs an innovative technical infrastructure to deliver to the world priceless Inuit cultural content, such as interactive e-learning activities, video-on-demand, customizable teacher resources, and Inuktitut language lessons. It will be a platform for North-South communication and collaboration. In addition to educating the public about Inuit culture, another goal of the site is to develop a youth and educational market for our films.

When Atanarjuat came out, so many people asked us “how did you make this film in the Arctic?!”. So, for the LIVE FROM THE SET component, we wanted to invite the world to be our “virtual” on-set guest and experience (as much as possible) the process of making a film in the high Arctic with an Inuit production collective.

Who funds this work?
The website is financially supported by Telefilm Canada’s New Media Fund, Government of Nunavut (Dept of Sustainable Development), Nunavut Community Economic Development, Heritage Canada (Canadian Studies Program), National Research Council (Industrial Research Assistance Program). NITV (Nunavut Independent Television Network) is a collaborating partner. We also have sponsorships from Ardicom Digital Communications, SSI Micro, and Stratos Global Corporation.

Who are the producers of the site?
We have a team in Igloolik and Montreal. In Montreal, our production manager Natalie Melançon is coordinating our graphic designers, programmers, and integration specialists. In Igloolik, I’m coordinating the team of reporters, which does the daily coverage. In Igloolik, the team is made up of about 9 members: 3 videographers, 1 audio reporter, 1 photographer, and 3 writers who do the daily blogs. Most of our team is from Igloolik, including 8 youth trainees from the community who are learning about media production while we make this website and feature film.

Note: Atanarjuat and other 23 feature films by indigenous directors will be part of First Nations/First Features: A Showcase of World Indigenous Film, a groundbreaking showcase at MoMA in New York City and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. beginning May 12, 2005. For schedules and further information please visit First Nations First Features.

Image credit
1. Igloolik crew

Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner
First Nations First Features
Igloolik Isuma
The Journals of Knud Rasmussen
The Journals of Knud Rasmussen: Live From the Set!

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