“The more we know about the issue of copyright in the last century, the more we can decide where copyright should go,” says Eli MacLaren, a Banting post-doctoral fellow with Carleton.
MacLaren has spent years researching the impact of early copyright laws on Canadian literature. He has reached only as far as the 1920s, with much still in front of him, but he has seen enough of the years right after Confederation to conclude that the Canadian government and its British overseers failed Canlit badly.
The copyright regime instituted back then discouraged Canadian publishers from reprinting foreign books. That so weakened the industry that Canadian authors tended to go abroad to publish their books. Example: Lucy Maud Montgomery went to Boston in 1908 to publish Anne of Green Gables. We still feel the effects of those mistakes.
“We probably would have had a richer literary culture if publishing had been stronger,” says the Montreal-based MacLaren, who is an assistant professor at McGill, on leave to pursue the fellowship.
By the 1920s, Canadian nationalism was growing, authors had become more determined to publish at home, and a small press industry had emerged. Today, most small domestic presses publishing Canadian authors survive only with government subsidies.
While the home industry is wobbling along, it faces constant new challenges from multinational corporations and Internet-based technological advances that are radically changing the industry worldwide. MacLaren says legislators reforming copyright laws must be cannier than their forebears to ensure that the Canadian interest is protected and home-grown literature flourishes.