Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Going the wrong way on copyright

One of the more obnoxious clauses in the TPP is a requirement to extend the term of copyright from the current life plus 50 years to life plus 70 years. The supposed justification for this is that it creates a greater incentive for dead people like J R R Tolkien and Ian Fleming to create works, knowing that not just their children, but their grand-children and great-great-grandchildren - or, more likely, the publishing company they sold the rights to - can continue to reap economic benefits from their work long after they are dead. The real justification of course is the US's powerful copyright lobby, which profits by denying the works of the dead to other people, and wants another 20 years revenue out of everything.

Implementing this will mean that at some stage, New Zealand will have a twenty year period in which nothing leaves copyright. Someone who knows more about New Zealand creative works than me can compile a list of whose work will be locked up, but it basicly means we won't see the work of New Zealand artists who died in the 1970's until the 2040's. And this will cost - MFAT, in its PR, estimates the annual cost as $55 million a year (and remember, this is MFAT PR, so they'll understate costs and overstate benefits).

But beyond that, it is simply moving in the wrong direction. The copyright term is already far longer than it needs to be. Copyright exists to ensure artists can make a living and to provide them with an incentive to create. It doesn't need to last two human lifetimes to do that. It doesn't even need to last one: the optimum term of copyright turns out to be 14 years. And we should be moving in that direction, rather than endlessly extending copyright terms to benefit corporate rent-seekers. But now, thanks to the TPP, the option of reforming copyright so that it serves the public rather than Walt Disney's lawyers is forever foreclosed to us. Yet another reason why we should never have signed it.