Pennies from heaven

By Legal Eagle

Copyright law has really jumped the shark. The Canadian Royal Mint wants to sue a struggling artist for featuring Canadian pennies on the cover of his latest album called No More Pennies (pictured above). (I can’t resist adding – he may be struggling but he’s not penniless, as the album cover shows. Boom tish! Okay, I’ll leave you alone now):

The Ottawa-based Mint has told Gunning, 39, it wants a piece of the action after his new album No More Pennies is released Sept. 18 because there are images of pennies on the album cover, which it says contravenes copyright.

While the Mint has waived the $1,200 in royalties on the first 2,000 CDs because Gunning is a small-time artist, it is not prepared to be so generous if he makes another 2,000 copies.

“We have helped this guy out by giving him a break,” Alex Reeves, communications manager for the Royal Canadian Mint, said Tuesday.

“Now that we have explained the rules and the policy, it’s very clear what the implications are for using the penny’s image. And we’re certainly being consistent in the applications of our policy for any for-profit use,” he said.

Reeves said if Gunning can’t afford the royalties if and when he produces more CDs then he can always remove the soon-to-discontinued penny from the cover.

I didn’t realise that the Canadians were about to discontinue the penny. In fact I have a Canadian penny in my wallet left over from my recent trip to Canada. I shall keep it and treasure it… Here it is:

Ha, what an evil copyright infringer I am (though the image is not for profit, it’s for the purposes of discussion and commentary for any evil Canadian Mint copyright goon who is looking on).

Like seriously, what has happened to copyright law? The original idea was to allow creators of original works to protect them and to ensure that they were recompensed for their work to encourage creativity. And now, copyright is being used to stifle creativity. I feel like copyright has gone insane. And hey, guys, if you jump the shark too many times, people will stop believing in the utility of copyright law. I refer to and repeat SL’s comments on the infamous Kookaburra case:

1. IP law is rapidly becoming a laughing-stock. IP ‘rights’ (choses in action par excellence) are intangible property rights typically conferred in the form of temporary monopolies. As any economist can tell you, monopolies — especially monopolies backed by the coercive power of the state — are pretty nasty creatures when it comes down to it. You don’t want them hanging around for too long. That’s why — depending on jurisdiction — patents and trademarks are either strongly time-limited (between 10 and 16 years for most patents) and subject to registration and set all about with fever trees (trademarks). IP law exists to facilitate innovation, to reward the clever scientist or gifted writer. Taken too far, however, IP protection stifles innovation — making it harder, not easier, to make new things — and becomes a cash cow for a certain type of lawyer and a certain type of IP owner.

Copyright is the worst of the lot. It requires no registration and lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years. Yes, your grandchildren — if you do well with a novel or song — could be living high on the hog once you’ve popped your clogs. It used to be life plus 50 years, but of late, the IP types have become rather greedy.

2. Property law is only any good if it can protect the interest in question. As IP’s ability to protect intangible property rights has waned thanks to technological changes, IP owners have become increasingly silly about defending what they have. This has manifested itself in various nasty legal and economic ways….

In my view, copyright should expire with the author. This ‘life plus 70? crap is an invitation to abuse and prevents the timely release of useful information and data into the public domain. It also encourages abuse in the opposite direction: witness the army of people out there who decide the whole thing isn’t worth their trouble and just partake in illegal downloading of all stripes.

Hopefully the Canadian Mint will realise this is freaking ridiculous.


  1. Conrad
    Posted September 14, 2012 at 5:18 am | Permalink

    Freaking ridiculous? I think that would be Loonie (or at least the Penny version of it).

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