An official New Zealand government bulletin on yesterday's conclusion of the still-secret Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement negotiations accidentally confirmed something we all believed was in there all along: an extension of copyright terms to match the USA's bizarre, evidence-free, century-plus terms.
According to the bulletin, the TPP signatories will have to retroactively extend their copyright terms, giving longer copyrights to works that were created before the agreement was struck, and taking works out of the public domain and putting them back into copyright's restrictions.
This is likely to bite even the USA in the ass, as there are many works that are in the public domain because they were not registered with the Copyright Office (prior to the abolition of the registration requirement in 1976) or didn't have their copyrights renewed.
New works that were derived from these public domain works will become, at the stroke of a pen, illegal. That means that living, working artists will have their new works banned so that dead artists' descendants can try their hand at the extremely unlikely business of breathing economic life into titles that were created generations ago. Even where no descendants are in evidence to exploit the works (as is the case with more than 90% of copyrighted works today, which have no discernible rightsholders), new works based on those (currently public domain) orphan works will become illegal.
New Zealand currently has a 50-year copyright period.2 However, half the TPP countries, and almost all OECD countries, have a 70-year period for copyright works. TPP requires New Zealand to move to 70 years as well, but allows for a transition to do this over time.
This change could benefit New Zealand artists in some cases, but the benefits are likely to be modest. Extending the copyright period also means New Zealand consumers and businesses will forego savings they otherwise would have made from books, music and films coming off copyright earlier.
The net cost of extending New Zealand’s copyright term from 50 to 70 years will be small to begin with and increases gradually over 20 years, reaching a relatively constant level after that. Over the very long term, including the initial 20- year period, the average annual cost is estimated to be around $55 million.
TPP: In Brief [Beehive/NZ Government]