Jamaica now has the third-longest copyright term in the world, and the term extension has been imposed retrospectively, all the way back to works created in 1962, the year ska burst on the public scene.
The new term only binds on Jamaicans, meaning that the currently public domain Jamaican works that are going back into copyright will be free for foreigners long before they're free for Jamaicans again, a situation that will apply to all Jamaican works produced from 1962 onward.
Jamaica has also committed to enforcing copyright on foreign works that had entered the public domain in Jamaica, meaning that Jamaicans will have to pay for imports they currently get for free.
If Jamaica hoped that this measure would bring in additional royalties for its musicians from overseas markets, then the tactic that it chose to pursue was doomed to failure from the outset. Foreign users of Jamaican copyrights are not bound by the extended copyright term; only Jamaicans are; but conversely, Jamaicans are now obliged to honor foreign copyrights for the full extended term.1 As opposition spokesperson on culture Olivia Grange put it during debate on the new law, “what will happen is that we will, in fact, be paying out to foreign copyright holders in foreign exchange for the continued use of foreign works in Jamaica, while our own rights holders will only benefit up to the 50, 70 or 80 years that exist in other countries”. So all that this measure has accomplished is that citizens of Jamaica, a developing country, will be paying more money into Hollywood's coffers, while Jamaica's own rich cultural heritage draws in not a penny more in return. Yay?
This measure is so stupid on its face that it is a wonder it passed through parliament at all. But what pains us even more is that it was deemed a trivial enough change to the law that it went unreported in the press until it was already a fait accompli. We could've spotted it earlier, and we're not proud of missing it. But it also came as an unwelcome shock to all the other activists with whom we work, including the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, whose members in Jamaica have suffered a sudden and severe setback to their mission to preserve and disseminate the early written records of newly-independent Jamaica.
Anatomy of a Copyright Coup: Jamaica's Public Domain Plundered [Jeremy Malcolm/EFF]