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TPP's Copyright Trap

One of the defining battles in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations is whether its signatory countries will standardize copyright terms lengths to a minimum term of the life of the author plus 70 years. This would effectively set the maximum duration of copyright holders' monopoly rights to over 140 years. This is the demand from rightsholder groups such as the RIAA and MPAA who advise the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR). A precedent for such a provision has been set in previous Free Trade Agreements with countries like Australia and Singapore.

But the world's leading economists agree that such an extraordinary long copyright term makes no sense. It provides no further incentive for creation and provides little additional income to creators or their families—except for a very small, successful minority.

The ratcheting upward of copyright terms comes at a time when Internet and other digital technologies have spurred a revitalization of the world's public domain: the treasury of works that has passed out of copyright. Thanks to digital distribution, public domain material is now globally available for almost zero cost for study, enjoyment and re-use. Repeated copyright term extensions means decades of copyrighted material that might otherwise have passed into this universal library are now trapped in deteriorating analog formats.

The extension of copyright term is opposed by law professors, tech companies, non-profits, authors' associations and users. The additional 20 years of copyright protection amounts to a misappropriation from the public domain. It inhibits the creation of new works that build upon the past and exacerbates the orphan works problem. Even the U.S. Copyright Office has indicated that the copyright term may be too long, and proposed options for mitigating its deleterious effects.

In many countries, including six that are parties to the TPP negotiations, copyright terms remain set at life plus 50 years—because that term was established in law as a global standard by two copyright treaties, the Berne Convention and TRIPS. Until now these countries—Brunei, Canada, New Zealand, Malaysia, Japan and Vietnam—have resisted extending their copyright terms further, because it would result in an uncompensated outflow of money to large foreign corporations, and because it would endanger their peoples' ability to benefit from their own rich cultural heritage.

The current Berne standard of life plus 50 years is now under threat. The USTR is taking advantage of the secret TPP process to renegotiate it, hoping to firmly establish life plus 70 years as a new de facto global standard.

More Information From EFF and Our Partners

If you're in the United States, urge your lawmakers to call a hearing on the contents of the TPP that will impact your digital rights, and more importantly, to vote this deal down when it comes to them for ratification:

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