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Opening our borders to free trade with countries across the Pacific may extend copyright protection for authors and artists in Canada.
Last November, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Canada's intention to be a part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Negotiations for the treaty have reached the 11th round, and while official documents haven't surfaced yet the American NGO Knowledge Economy International released a leaked draft of the copyright chapter last year.
Under Canadian law, copyright terms are 20 years shorter than what's being negotiated in the TPP, according to the leaked draft. The Copyright Act of Canada grants ownership rights of literary works 50 years after the death of the author. For sounds, recordings, performances and videos, the term is 50 years after the author releases, broadcasts, or performs the original creation. TPP members are negotiating a 70 year plus-death-of-the-author term for literary works, and a 95-year-after-publication term for other artistic works.
This is one of the industries where Canada could face challenges if it is accepted as a member of the TPP. But becoming part of the deal is not a given yet.
"The biggest challenge right now is actually convincing current members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership to accept Canada's participation in the negotiation," says Patrick Leblond, an associate professor at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa.
Copyright ensures authors and their next of kin receive profit from their original work.This encourages the creation of new works, says John Degen, a Canadian novelist and literature officer at the Ontario Arts Council. But determining a reasonable length for copyright has been the topic of debate before. Changes in technology should be considered when dealing with copyright terms, Degen adds.
Ernest Hemingway's works entered the Canadian public domain at the beginning of the year.
"In a digital age when everyone can publish anything by themselves without an intermediary, there’s really no telling for how long something will be valuable or when it will become valuable," he says.
But a term extension doesn't just cover new creations. It covers all works created to date. For example, if Canada were to extend copyright for 20 years, Ernest Hemingway's books, which entered the Canadian public domain at the beginning of the year, would be locked under copyright until 2032.
"For all the works that have been already created there is no incentive," he says. "Locking them down for 20 more years only means that they would be less accessible."
New versions of original works are often created after copyright expires. Take, for example, American author Seth Grahame-Smith's modern twist on Jane Austen's classic novel, the result of which is Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. If a Canadian writer wanted to add robots to Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls there would be no need to pay copyright dues under the current system.
“It’s a false argument to say that just because something is not available for me to use for free then it’s not available to me at all,” says Degen.
In this case, It would be up to the copyright owner to accept or decline the new version of the work. A term extension, acknowledges Degen, could constrain authors looking to create their own versions of original works.
The 20-year difference could be a disadvantage when Canada sits to negotiate. Based on the Berne Convention, an international agreement for copyright laws, the Canadian Copyright law meets the minimum standard of 50 years after death of the author or publication. But in most European countries, as well as in the United States, copyright terms have already been extended by 20 years.
"If this is the way the world is going, it makes us uncompetitive not to go in that direction as well," says Degen.
Copyright terms around the world
Copyright duration is usually calculated from the date of the author’s death. Here’s a look at the copyright terms of original literary, dramatic, musical, or artistic works around the world.
Trans-Pacific Partnership signatories
Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiating countries
Source: Collection of National Copyright Laws, UNESCO
Interesting facts about copyright