Japan, which currently has a term of life of the author plus 50 years, has been reviewing proposals to move to life plus 70. An article by Yoshikazi Suzuki in yesterday's Daily Yomiuri Online (link here) provides a refreshing look at the issue, one that was entirely absent from the U.S. press when term extension was originally debated -- as compared to all the after-the-fact armchair complaints. Here is an edited, abbreviated section from the article, which should be read in full:
A ministerial subpanel debating a proposal to extend copyright protection periods is sharply divided between those on the panel sympathetic to copyright holders who want to extend the period and members cautious about the idea.
Since its establishment in March, the Education, Science and Technology Ministry's subpanel on the protection and use of copyrighted works, including literature, music and objects of art, has met nine times. However, the subpanel has been unable to reach a consensus about whether to extend the protection period from the current 50 years to 70 years.
Considering this, it remains to be seen whether the government will be able to achieve the goal stipulated in its "Intellectual Property Strategic Program 2007," which stated that it would reach a conclusion that balances copyright protection with content use by the end of the current fiscal year.
The subpanel is a division of the copyright subcommittee set up under the ministry's Council for Cultural Affairs.
The current dispute arose in September last year when a federation of various organizations formed by writers and other copyright holders asked the Cultural Affairs Agency to extend the protection period in Japan to 70 years to match the periods adopted in the United States and many European countries.
The federation, chaired by novelist Masahiro Mita, comprises 17 organizations, including the Japan Writers' Association and the Japanese Society of Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers.
The federation's move aroused negative reactions from an association formed by many academics, critics, lawyers, artists and others that oppose an extended protection period. The association urged the agency not to authorize an extended protection period without having the issue debated among various sectors of society. The group argued there were concerns that extending the period of copyright protection could adversely affect the public.
The Japan Federation of Bar Associations followed suit, presenting the agency a written opinion against the extension.
Divisions between copyright holders seeking an extended copyright protection period and those cautious or negative about the idea also can be seen in the opinions expressed by members of the panel on the protection and use of copyrighted works. In fact, an interim report issued by the subpanel last month concerning its discussions on the issue appeared to be a showcase of conflicting opinions among its members.
For example, proponents of the extension said Japan's protection period should be set at a level suited to intellectual property produced in the United States and Europe, with which this nation has a great deal of cultural exchanges. They added foreign copyrighted works enjoyed in this country are mostly from nations with 70-year copyright protection periods.
This argument was rebutted by those cautious about the extension, saying the 50-year protection period remains predominant worldwide. They also raised questions about what could be done to encourage the advancement of culture in Japan by adjusting the protection period to match the United States and Europe.
The conflict of opinions also was evident in discussions about whether the extension would benefit Japan's efforts to export intellectual property. Copyright holders insisted the extension would help protect Japanese intellectual property--including comics and animated films that have been widely exported overseas.
Meanwhile, some rejected such an assertion, saying profits gained by Japan through the sale of copyrighted products to other nations have been far below those obtained by other countries selling similar products to Japan. They concluded the extension would only serve to further widen the gap.
Another contentious issue focused on whether the extension would contribute to cultural advancement in Japan. Those in favor said the move would help motivate creators. But this argument was rejected by skeptics who said there was no reason to believe the current 50-year protection period would undermine motivations.
They asserted that most copyrighted products would have no commercial value when they reach the end of their 50-year protection period. They said this meant rights pertaining to such works, if the protection period was extended, would only be preserved in vain because few opportunities would exist to be used for commercial purposes. The extension would hurt the interests of people who want to benefit from works with expired copyright, citing, as an example, Web site libraries that release novels and other works with expired copyright.
What I find so refreshing about the article is that it lays out the arguments on both sides, and not just the rhetoric.