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Artist Marcel Barbeau enters the debate surrounding the “modernization” of copyright

Montreal, Wednesday November 3, 2010 – Marcel Barbeau, well-known Quebec artist and signatory of the Refus Global, has decided to throw his support behind the demands of the two major national associations of visual artists in Canada, CARFAC and RAAV. In an e-mail addressed to the executive director of RAAV, Mr. Barbeau severely criticizes Bill C-32. In his e-mail, he states, “Our work and our copyright are our only pension fund, and they want to take it away from us.” Now 85 years old, Mr. Barbeau has decided to stand up against the amendments to the Copyright Act that will only make artists’ living conditions more insecure.

The Artist Resale Right

The inclusion of the Artist Resale Right in our copyright legislation has been a concern for Barbeau since 1977. Unfortunately, the Canadian government has missed the opportunity to include it in bill C-32. The resale right would enable artists, especially senior artists, to receive a small percentage of the amount for which their works are resold. In Europe, this percentage varies between 3% and 5%. The Resale Right exists in 59 countries around the world, including England, France, and Australia. Barbeau writes, “One of the works I produced in 1956, which I had given to a friend in 1956 or 1957, was sold by his heir at auction in 2008 for a little more than $86,000. I did not receive one cent from this sale, and I certainly need it much more than he does. Since I gave friends almost all of the works that I made in my youth that I did not destroy, or sold the pieces for very, very little, I can make just about no money from a career that cost me a great deal. Others are getting rich on my works, while my situation remains very insecure at 85 years of age.”

The example of Marcel Barbeau sheds light on the injustice of this situation. In this particular case, Mr Barbeau should have received more than $4,000 from the resale – a sum that would be of great help to him as a senior artist.

The Educational Exception

Mr. Barbeau is also concerned about the issue of reproduction rights in the education field and about the exhibition right: “The use of reproduction rights by institutions worries me as well. Why do schools, universities, museums, and other users agree to pay salaries or major honoraria – which we can’t even dream of at the end of our careers – to all of their employees and contractors, including those whom they use to limit and block application of copyright, and stubbornly refuse to pay copyright to artists whose works are the foundation of these institutions? Moreover, these rights should be extended to artists deceased for more than 50 years and the funds collected should be paid into copyright collective societies and redistributed to all professional artists or into a pension fund. This way, users will not be induced to neglect living artists so that they can save money. This money would make it possible to create real pension funds for artists, like those that exist in France. Because I lived there for about fifteen years, I receive today an amount almost as large from my French pension plan as from both of my pension plans in Canada, where I produced and exhibited my works for 65 years.”

Discrimination in the Application of the Exhibition Right

Mr. Barbeau also objects to the fact that his works produced before June 1988 are not covered by the exhibition right and that he therefore cannot receive royalties for these works when they are exhibited. He continues, “It seems particularly despicable to exclude works produced before 1988 from the exhibition right. Many of these works were given away or sold at a very low price at the time. They were produced with no governmental assistance under extremely poor conditions. We lost our health, our families, our lives, and we receive no pension, as we never earned an income high enough to contribute into the funds. At least, this is the case for artists who never had the privilege of an income-producing occupation.”

RAAV and CARFAC ask that the federal government and its elected representatives undertake a major revision of Bill C-32. Visual artists are invited to visit the Web sites of RAAV and CARFAC to find information on the risks that this bill creates and to make their voices heard.