Canada and the Berne Convention: 1886-1971

Sara Bannerman (sara.bannerman@gmail.com)
School of Journalism and Communication, Carleton University
February, 2009
 

Abstract

The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works was established in 1886 as the world’s first multilateral copyright treaty and still acts as the cornerstone of international copyright protection today. This dissertation covers Canada’s history with the Berne Convention from 1886 to its last revision in 1971.

Canada quietly joined the Berne Convention in 1886 as a British colony before attempting to denounce the treaty in 1889. Canada would have been the first country to withdraw from the Berne Union, and fears that such an action would destroy the nascent copyright union led the British government to use its Imperial control to prevent Canada’s withdrawal. Canada eventually joined the Union as a full-fledged signatory in the 1920s. Canada’s relationship to the Berne Convention continued to be conflicted, however: Canada refused to implement the 1948 revision of the treaty and was largely disengaged from the Berne Union up to the late 1960s. Debates in the late 1960s and early 1970s regarding the place of developing countries within the Union then sparked Canada’s reengagement with Berne Union activities, although Canada did not accede to the most recent 1971 revision of the Berne Convention until 1998.

The path of Canadian international copyright has been, in part, a product of the norms, institutions and policies of Canadian foreign relations. Canada’s history with the Berne Convention can be viewed as the struggle of a former British colony to find a place within the international system – a struggle to project an image of Canada that accommodated the desire to be engaged in a community of the most powerful nations while also reflecting the reality of a country that was a net copyright importer with a relatively small creative industry. Canada’s international copyright policy was used as a vehicle to project an image of Canada to the international community – to portray Canada as a British dominion, a sovereign country, a good international citizen, a developed-and-developing country, and a middle power.
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