Monday, November 05, 2007

Japan Looks at Copyright Term Extension

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.


Anonymous said...

Why is it that every proposal for copyright extension includes already protected works? We are offering creators of works more reward for no additional consideration. They created the work in exchange for what they were offered at the time.

Now, it does make some sense that you could spur NEW creations with the offer of even MORE of a reward, but that logic doesn't flow backwards.

Anonymous said...

I genuinely fear that we have placed the world's cultural heritage in the hands of corporations, not artists. To ask society to reward authorship, frequently of mundane works of no moment, with protection extending beyond the lives of living descendants at the time of the author's death is to deprive us all of the free use of those works for a similar length of time. As an abstract notion it cannot make any sense. Of course it's completely understandable as a means to create assets for corporations particularly when the works are aggregated. But these provably soulless entities which are, but for profits, disinterested in the well-being of the culture and careless about quality of life have become increasingly undeserving of support - - even as the source of trickle-down benefits to authors. At the same time, these entities have become increasingly powerful and influential over the business of culture. So much so, that this posting is anonymous because I could not make a living without them.

It is time for a revolution - - not for measured balancing of arguments that are predisposed to the status quo of a ridiculous life + 50 term. Japan would be an ideal spark - - a culture that reveres copying itself as an art.

William Patry said...

Dear anonymous, I think 1998 is the year of shame for copyright, with term extension and chapter 12 of title 17. It was the year that any pretense of corporately owned copyright being concerned with encouraging learning and benefiting culture was removed. It was the year that made me question seriously everything I had previously assumed I knew about copyright.

One can only admire greatly Andrew Gowers in the UK for being the first to stand up and say no, and pray the Japanese follow.