What are Copyright Collective Societies?

Copyright collectives are associations that administer the rights of copyright owners. Owners authorise societies to issue licences for the use of their works and collect royalties on their behalf. Copyright owners register their works with a collective, which then collects a fee each time a registered work is licensed and pays a royalty back to the copyright owner.

Copyright collectives usually represent copyright owners of a specific medium (such as music, visual arts or film) and administer specific rights pertaining to it. Here are some examples:

  • SOCAN (Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada) administers performing rights for musical works
  • SODRAC (Society for Reproduction Rights of Authors, Publishers and Composers in Canada) administers exhibition and reproduction rights for visual art
  • COPIBEC administers the right to copy literary works

Most Canadian societies are non-profit and therefore do not make money on the administration of copyrights. However, they do collect membership fees and retain a percentage of royalties to cover their administration costs.

How do they help Copyright Owners?

Collectives help copyright owners get paid for the use of their work. Signing licensing agreements can be a lengthy and difficult process both for copyright users and owners. Collective societies address this problem by representing the copyright owners of their registered works. Instead of approaching individual owners, users approach the collective to which they belong. Rather than draft a new agreement for every license, collectives offer a set of standardized licensing agreements to users. Many collectives also have agreements with frequent users of copyrighted material (such as music venues, cinemas and schools). Copyright collectives represent large numbers of copyright owners, making the process of getting consent and reaching an agreement much quicker and more efficient than dealing with owners individually.

Copyright collectives also protect the specific rights they administer. Many collectives will take legal action when these rights have been infringed (usually when a licensing agreement is breached). Some collectives also lobby the government on legal and political issues affecting their members.

Canadian copyright collectives operate nationwide, but some have agreements with associations in other countries. This allows members of the Canadian society to collect royalties from the use of their work abroad.

What do I need to know before I join?

It is important to know what rights and uses a collective’s license covers. Certain works can be used in ways that may not be covered (or protected) by a particular collective’s licensing agreements. For example, the Education Rights Collective of Canada (ERCC) represents the interests of copyright owners of television and radio programs, but only when reproduced or performed by educational institutions for educational purposes.

The costs of memberships can vary from collective to collective. Most collectives’ main source of income is the stipend they collect from royalties. This amount can vary depending on the medium and the services the collective provides.

Is it easy to cancel your membership?

Most collectives require membership renewal every year or two. Since copyright owners retain their ownership rights, they can unregister their works from collectives. However, the process of doing so may vary from organisation to organisation.

Where Can I find More Information of Canadian Copyright Collectives?

Descriptions of the major copyright collectives in Canada (as well as links to their websites) can be found of the Copyright Board of Canada’s website at:http://www.cb-cda.gc.ca/societies-societes/index-e.html.