Secretive TPP treaty could kill creator's right to get copyrights back from studios, labels and publishers

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has new analysis of the leaked Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) treaty, a secretive trade deal being hammered out without any public oversight, and set to be fast-tracked through the US Congress without substantial debate. EFF's piece focuses on the treaty's provisions that affect "termination rights," an obscure but important part of copyright law that allows creators to take their assigned copyrights back from the companies who bought them after 35 years. The studios, labels and publishers hate this, as it allows creators who scored big hits early in their careers when they were getting paid peanuts for their work to take those successful works back and re-sell them at a more appropriate price. EFF's view is that the TPP draft endangers Termination Rights.

It's more proof that just because many creators are on the side of the big entertainment companies, it doesn't follow that the companies are on the side of their creators. Any creator who endorses TPP, thinking that expansions to copyright will always benefit them, had better look again: TPP is a way of taking away one of the most valuable rights that creators have and handing it over to Big Content to make billions off of.

The section of the TPP labeled QQ.G.9 appears to be a more direct challenge to termination rights. It says:

Each Party shall provide that for copyright and related rights, any person acquiring or holding any economic right in a work, performance, or phonogram: may freely and separately transfer that right by contract; and by virtue of a contract, including contracts of employment underlying the creation of works, performances, and phonograms, shall be able to exercise that right in that person's own name and enjoy fully the benefits derived from that right.1

The termination right, of course, is a limit on free transfer. As a result, instead of a narrow attack on the termination rights of musicians by reclassifying their works as “works-for-hire,” the text here could eliminate termination rights for everyone. It is an open question whether QQ.G.9 would actually mandate such a significant change in U.S. law, but it is worth noting that the provision specifically targets “phonograms”—legal jargon for sound recordings. Furthermore, an addition proposed by Chile seems to have been designed to mitigate the possibility of broad scale legal changes, leaving us concerned about the ramifications of the current language.

The TPP's Attack on Artists' Termination Rights [Parker Higgins and Sarah Jeong/EFF]