A Shifting Empire
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A Shifting Empire

100 Years of the Copyright Act 1911

Edited by Uma Suthersanen and Ysolde Gendreau

The 1911 Copyright Act, often termed the ‘Imperial Copyright Act’, changed the jurisprudential landscape in respect of copyright law, not only in the United Kingdom but also within the then Empire. This book offers a bird’s eye perspective of why and how the first global copyright law launched a new order, often termed the ‘common law copyright system’.
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Chapter 9: No copyright law is an island

Ysolde Gendreau


Despite its overtly colonial tone, the Imperial Copyright Act1 actually heralded Canada’s copyright emancipation. An uninformed observer could believe that the foundations for copyright sovereignty had been laid with the British North America Act, 1867,2 the constitutional basis for contemporary Canada, when the power to enact copyright legislation was granted to the federal Parliament.3 Indeed, the first Canadian Copyright Act was enacted the following year4 and was designed to replace the copyright legislations that existed in the colonies that had joined together to form Canada. If they had entertained the idea that the sole new source of copyright law in the country would be the Canadian Parliament, Canadian copyright stakeholders – and parliamentarians – would soon realize, however, that such was not the case. Up until the coming into force in 1924 of the Copyright Act, 1921,5 Canadian copyright law was an intricate combination of homegrown Canadian statutes and British laws, including the international conventions to which Great Britain was a party for herself and for her colonies. Described as ‘a complexity of complexities’,6 it reflected the tensions of a country that was struggling for autonomy between the continuing imperialism of the mother country and the aggressive commercial presence of a single more populous neighbour with whom it shares a continent and a language.7 With its avowed purpose of allowing the self-governing dominions greater independence in its copyright policies, the 1911 Imperial Act enabled Canada to take stock of the possibilities and constraints that its geopolitical reality allowed.

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