Tag Archives: copyright term

Copyright Term Extension and the Public Domain

It’s Copyright Week, a series of actions and discussions supporting key principles that should guide copyright policy. Every day this week, various groups are taking on different elements of the law, and addressing what’s at stake, and what we need to do to make sure that copyright promotes creativity and innovation! Today’s topic is “Building and Defending a Robust Public Domain: The public domain is our cultural commons and a public trust. Copyright policy should seek to promote, and not diminish, this crucial resource.”

The current copyright term in the United States goes well beyond the international standard of life of the author plus fifty years and is now set at life of the author plus seventy years, or ninety-five years for corporate works. This term is unacceptably long and does significant damage to the public domain, depriving the public of a storehouse of raw materials from which individuals can draw from to learn and create new ideas or works.

Each year, Duke’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain does a roundup of everything that could have entered the public domain if the term prior to the 1976 act, which was set at twenty-eight years plus another twenty-eight years if renewed. The term has been changed twice since then, once by the 1976 Copyright Act which set the term at life of the author plus fifty years, then again in 1998 to the current term.

The list of works that failed to enter into the public domain as a result of these two changes to the copyright term is always an impressive one. This year’s highlights include works like T.H. White’s The Once in Future King, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart; or Michael Bond’s, A Bear Called Paddington. These works will go into the public domain in 2054. Notably, because of the Copyright Term Extension Act, the public domain has essentially been frozen; works under copyright at the date of implementation of the act in 1998 retained their copyright. The public domain will not see any new works due to expired copyrights until 2019.

The United States’ copyright term is unacceptably long and does not represent the international standard. Most countries in the world adhere to the Berne Convention standard of life of the author plus fifty years. In fact, where copyright term exceeds this international standard, there have been calls to reduce the term.

Many stakeholders, including the Library Copyright Alliance, called for a reduction of copyright term in submissions for the EU Copyright Consultation. The draft report on the Evaluation of the EU Copyright Directive was recently released and “Calls on the Commission to harmonise the term of protection of copyright to a duration that does not exceed the current international standards set out in the Berne Convention.”  If accepted, harmonization of copyright term would actually result in a reduction of term for many countries to life plus fifty years.

Reduction of copyright term makes good policy sense as long terms restrict access to knowledge and exacerbate the problem of orphan works. Furthermore, the economic evidence does not justify the current copyright term. In fact, the UK-commissioned independent review by Ian Hargreaves found:

Economic evidence is clear that the likely deadweight loss to the economy exceeds any additional incentivising effect which might result from the extension of copyright term beyond its present levels. This is doubly clear for retrospective extension to copyright term, given the impossibility of incentivising the creation of already existing works, or work from artists already dead. Despite this, there are frequent proposals to increase term . . . The UK Government assessment found it to be economically detrimental. An international study found term extension to have no impact on output.

Such lengthy copyright terms make little sense, particularly in light of today’s digital environment. Works are often published on the Internet, resulting in increasingly ephemeral content. Such content may have little to no economic value to the copyright owner, yet still remains under copyright protection until seventy years after the author has died. Policymakers should carefully consider the economic evidence and rationale before extending copyright terms and diminishing the public domain.

New WikiLeaks of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement Intellectual Property Chapter — Analysis of Copyright Provisions

The United States is currently negotiating a large, regional free trade agreement with eleven other countries: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. On October 16, 2014, WikiLeaks published a new leak of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement’s (TPP) negotiating text for the intellectual property chapter. This text, dated May 16, 2014, contains some substantial changes from last year’s November leak of the text (which revealed the state of negotiations as of August 2013).

The chapter is now shorter and numerous brackets (brackets denote areas of the text which have not yet been agreed to) have been removed. The text also includes some new provisions. Some differences between the copyright provisions from last year’s leak to today’s leak are highlighted below. However, given that the leaked text is from May, further changes may have been made in the last five months and bracketed issues may have been resolved. TPP negotiations will continue in Australia next week where issues may reach further resolution.

Copyright Term

In the prior leak, New Zealand, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, Canada and Japan supported a proposal allowing the copyright term of protection to be determined by “each Party’s domestic law and the international agreements to which each Party is a party.” The current leak reveals that this proposal has been eliminated.

The new text suggests that the copyright term will be specified in the TPP, though the exact number of years has not yet been agreed to. Bracketed language around the period of years reveals that the three options being discussed are life of the author plus fifty, seventy or one-hundred years. The United States, along with the countries with which the United States already has bilateral trade agreements with—Australia, Chile, Peru and Singapore—currently have a period of protection of life plus seventy years. Mexico is the only country that provides for life of the author plus one hundred years. The other countries in the agreement use the international standard of life plus fifty years.

For corporate works that have been published, the bracketed text includes periods of protection of fifty, seventy, seventy-five or ninety-five years.

In addition to these specified periods of years, a new proposal similar to the Berne rule of shorter term appears in the leaked text. This rule would essentially allow parties to limit the term of protection provided to authors of another party to the term provided under that party’s legislation. For example, if the final TPP text required a period of copyright protection of life plus fifty years, the United States would not be required to provide its period of life plus seventy years to authors in New Zealand if New Zealand continued to provide a term of life plus fifty years. The United States currently does not implement the Berne rule of shorter term.

Formalities

Another new provision in the text is a rule against formalities. Article QQ.G.X is unbracketed and therefore appears to be agreed to by the TPP negotiating parties. It reads, “No Party may subject the enjoyment and exercise of the rights of authors, performers and producers of phonograms provided for in this Chapter to any formality.”

This language could be problematic if the United States, or other TPP parties, wanted to re-introduce formalities for copyright protections granted that go beyond minimum international standards. Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante, for example, proposed the re-introduction of formalities for the last twenty years of copyright protection in the United States. If adopted, such a proposal would violate the TPP and subject the United States to investor-state dispute settlement, under which a corporation could sue the Unites States government for failure to comply with the TPP.

Limitations and Exceptions

Parties to the TPP have agreed to include language on limitations and exceptions, including a provision that has not been included in prior U.S. free trade agreements. This language reads:

Each Party shall endeavor to achieve an appropriate balance in its copyright and related rights system, inter alia by means of limitations or exceptions that are consistent with Article QQ.G.16.1, including those for the digital environment, giving due consideration to legitimate purposes such as, but not limited to: criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, research, and other similar purposes; and facilitating access to [AU oppose: published] works for persons who are blind, visually impaired, or otherwise print [AU propose: or perceptually] disabled.116 117

116 {In particular,} As recognized by the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled (June 27, 2013).
117 For purposes of greater clarity, a use that has commercial aspects may in appropriate circumstances be considered to have a legitimate purpose under Article QQ.G.16.3.

Most of this language had already been agreed to in the November 2013 leak. However, the new leak reveals that parties have now agreed to include facilitating access for persons who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled. Additionally, footnote 116 specifically referencing the Marrakesh Treaty is a new addition. While the Marrakesh Treaty has not yet been ratified by any of the TPP countries and has not yet entered into force (the treaty requires twenty ratifications; India and El Salvador are currently the two countries that have ratified it), several of the TPP negotiating parties have signed the treaty including the United States, Australia, Chile, Mexico, and Peru.

Technological Protection Measures

The language on technological protection measures (TPMs) in last year’s leak was heavily bracketed, highlighting the lack of agreement in this area. The United States initially proposed a closed set of limitations and exceptions to allow circumvention of TPMs, with additional limitations and exceptions possible through a three-year rulemaking process modeled off of Section 1201 of the United States Copyright Law.

The new TPP text eliminates the specific limitations and exceptions and three-year rulemaking process. It now allows limitations and exceptions through legislative, regulatory or administrative processes. Additionally, the United States’ proposed “substantial evidence” burden (proposed in conjunction with allowing new limitations and exceptions through the rulemaking process)—a standard not found in the United States Copyright Law—has been eliminated. This new text, with the exception of a few clauses, has been agreed to by the TPP parties.

The text now provides that:

Each Party may provide [MY/MX/PE oppose: certain] exceptions and limitations to the measures implementing subparagraphs (a)(i) and (ii) in order to enable non-infringing uses where there is an actual or likely adverse impact of those measures on those non-infringing uses, as determined through a legislative, regulatory, or administrative process in accordance with the Party’s law, giving due consideration to evidence when presented in that process, including with respect to whether appropriate and effective measures have been taken by rights holders to enable the beneficiaries to enjoy the limitations and exceptions under that Party’s law [in accordance with Article QQ.G.16] [CL propose:, as well as the evidence presented by the beneficiaries with respect to the necessity of the creation of such exception and limitation]

This language is an improvement over the United States’ previous proposal because it would allow for new permanent limitations and exceptions that would allow for circumvention of TPMs—for example, for cell-phone unlocking. However, the language seems to assume that parties need to provide for limitations and exceptions even for non-infringing uses. As noted in a recent Library Copyright Alliance (LCA) statement, one of the flaws of Section 1201 in the United States Copyright Law is that this section could be interpreted to prohibit circumvention of a TPM even for the purpose of engaging in a lawful use of the work.

Additionally, it may be difficult to create a general permanent limitation and exception allowing for circumvention for any non-infringing use, such as was proposed in the Unlocking Technology Act due to the language requiring consideration of an “actual or likely adverse impact” of TPMs and evidence presented, including “whether … measures have been taken by rights holders to enable the beneficiaries to enjoy the limitations and exceptions under that Party’s law.” Requiring such considerations could be interpreted as allowing new permanent or temporary limitations and exceptions, but only on a case-by-case basis rather than by a general rule.

Internet Service Provider Liability

The latest leak of the TPP text also includes several new non-papers attached as addenda. The non-paper on Internet service provider liability is included as Addendum III and heavily bracketed.

Copyright Term Myths and Facts

The written testimony of four of the five witnesses speaking at the July 15, 2014 House Judiciary Subcommittee Hearing on Moral Rights, Termination Rights, Resale Royalty and Copyright Term, address the issue of copyright term. Notably, none of these witnesses suggest that the current term be extended further and Professor of Law Michael Carroll argues that the current term of protection is too long. Although the other witnesses did not propose extension of copyright, it should be noted that Rick Carnes, President of the Songwriters Guild of America, asserts that the current copyright term in the United States is appropriate and should not be shortened. Although he devotes only a single paragraph to the issue of copyright term, his written testimony nonetheless contains statements that are misleading or untrue.

Myth 1: The current copyright term represents the international standard.
Mr. Carnes’ written testimony asserts that “suggestions that the United States should break with the rest of the world to reduce the current term of copyright protection (designed specifically to allow creators to address the economic welfare of their families for a time period limited basically to the lives of their grandchildren) in order to stimulate ‘faster growth of the public domain’ should be rejected outright.”

Fact: The copyright term in the United States extends well beyond the Berne Convention’s standard and beyond the term of protection in the majority of countries.
Many countries’ copyright terms are set by the international agreements to which they are bound. The Berne Convention sets the minimum copyright term as the life of the author plus fifty years. The current term of protection in the United States is set at a period of the life of the author plus an additional seventy years. For corporate works or “works for hire,” the period of protection is set at ninety-five years. These terms far exceed what is required by international law.

Reducing the copyright term to the Berne standard would not “break with the rest of the world” as suggested by Mr. Carnes. The vast majority of countries use the Berne standard of life plus fifty years; there are almost twice as many countries with a period of protection shorter than the current term in the United States than there are countries with a period of life plus seventy years or greater.

Myth 2: The U.S. Copyright Office considers the current copyright term as proper.
Mr. Carnes’ written testimony asserts that the “U.S. Copyright Office, Congress and the United States Supreme Court have considered this issue on numerous occasions and determined that the current term of copyright protection established under Article I Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution is not only proper, but serves the dual purpose of supporting the marketplace of ideas by encouraging professional creativity and bolstering the U.S. economy and balance of trade as well.”

Fact: The U.S. Copyright Office has questioned the value of a lengthy copyright term.
As noted in the LCA statement, Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante has suggested that the current copyright term in the United States may not be beneficial. Ms. Pallante noted in a 2013 speech:

The benefits of a lengthy term are meaningless if the current owner of the work cannot be identified or cannot be located. Often times, this is complicated by the fact that the current owner is not the author or even the author’s children or grandchildren. As the Copyright Office recognized in one of its key revision studies of the 1950s, it seems questionable whether copyright term should be extended to benefit remote heirs or assignees, “long after the purpose of the protection has been achieved.”

The Copyright Office has clearly expressed its concerns regarding copyright terms extending well beyond the life of the author and Mr. Carnes’ assertion that the Copyright Office has determined that a period of life plus seventy years is appropriate is simply untrue.

Further, in recognition of the harms that the 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act has caused, Ms. Pallante has proposed the reintroduction of formalities for the last twenty years of protection.

Myth 3: The Supreme Court has determined the current copyright term is proper.
Mr. Carnes also asserts that the Supreme Court has endorsed the present copyright term as proper, a misreading of Eldred v. Ashcroft.

Fact: The Supreme Court never addressed the question of whether a period of protection of life plus seventy years was appropriate. The Court only upheld the power of Congress to set the term and extend the term retroactively.
The majority opinion in Eldred, while upholding the Copyright Term Extension Act, never addressed the propriety or benefits of the extension itself. Instead, the court addressed “the authority the Constitution assigns to Congress to prescribe the duration of copyrights.” As Justice Stevens’ dissent further points out, the question of “whether the extraordinary length of the grants authorized by the 1998 Act are invalid because they are the functional equivalent of perpetual copyrights is a question that need not be answered in this case because the question presented by the certiorari petition merely challenges Congress’ power to extend retroactively the terms of existing copyrights.”

The Court, by a 7-2 margin, interpreted the term “limited Times” as meaning “confined within certain bounds, “restrained,” or “circumscribed” and found that extending the copyright term by twenty years did not exceed this prescription. The majority then noted that on the question of whether the extension was a “rational exercise of legislative authority conferred by the Copyright Clause … we defer substantially to Congress.” The Court went on to state that the act “reflects judgments of a kind Congress typically makes, judgments we cannot dismiss as outside the Legislature’s domain.” Justice Stevens’ dissent notes that, “Fairly read, the Court has stated that congress’ actions under the Copyright/Patent Clause are, for all intent and purposes, judicially unreviewable.”

Notably, the Court states that in finding that the extension was a rational exercise of authority, “we are not at liberty to second-guess congressional determinations and policy judgments of this order, however debatable or arguably unwise they may be.” The majority never decides whether the extension to the present term of life plus seventy is appropriate and could, arguably, be interpreted as suggesting that the extension might be unwise.

While neither the majority nor Justice Steven’s dissent address the appropriateness of the copyright term extension, Justice Breyer’s dissent vigorously opposes the extension as violating the Constitutional rationale of the intellectual property system:

The economic effect of this 20-year extension—the longest blanket extension since the Nation’s founding—is to make the copyright term not limited, but virtually perpetual. Its primary legal effect is to grant the extended term not to authors, but their heirs, estates or corporate successors. And most importantly, its practical effect is not to promote, but to inhibit, the progress of “Science”—by which word the Framers meant learning or knowledge.

LCA Statement Opposing Copyright Term Extension at House Judiciary Subcommittee Hearing

On July 15, 2014, the House Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet continued its copyright review with a Hearing on Moral Rights, Termination Rights, Resale Royalty and Copyright Term. The Library Copyright Alliance (LCA) filed a statement addressing the topic of copyright term, noting the negative effects that lengthy copyright terms have on the public domain.

The statement notes that the Constitutional rationale for intellectual property protection is “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by security for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” The Supreme Court has interpreted this rationale as having an “ultimate aim … to stimulate creativity for the general public good.”

The statement then goes through the history of copyright term in the United States, which was initially a limited period of fourteen years, with the possibility of renewal for an additional fourteen years, a period far shorter than the current term of the life of the author plus an additional seventy years. It also points out that while patents and copyrights originally had similar periods of protection, the patent term has increased by only 43 percent while the copyright term has increased by almost 580 percent.

Copyright term extensions hinder the goal of “stimulat[ing] creativity for the general public good” by shrinking the public domain. The public domain is essential to allowing access to books and texts, and also promoting future creativity by providing raw materials upon which artists and authors can build. Longer copyright terms escalate the costs of access to knowledge by requiring licenses for a greater period of time and increasing the resources that must be devoted to finding the rightsholder.

The statement also points out that a copyright term that extends beyond the life of the author exacerbates the orphan works problem. Maria Pallante, Register of Copyrights, has noted that the Copyright Office recognized in a study “it seems questionable whether copyright term should be extended to benefit remote heirs or assignees, ‘long after the purpose of the protection has been achieved.’”

Additionally, the statement calls for evidence based copyright policy. It points to the independent Hargreaves report commissioned by the United Kingdom as well as an article published in the Review of Economic Research on Copyright Issues, both of which point out that the economic evidence does not support copyright term extensions, including the current lengthy term that exists in the United States.

Finally, the statement recommends that Congress explore ways to shorten the present term or mitigate its harms, for example, by considering Ms. Pallante’s proposal to reintroduce formalities for the final twenty years of copyright protection.

35 Organizations Write to TPP Ministers Opposing Lengthy Copyright Terms

On July 9, 2014, ARL joined thirty-four other organizations in sending a letter to ministers of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiating parties opposing the copyright term of life plus seventy years proposed by the United States. These organizations, representing libraries, archives, authors, educators, students, digital rights advocacy groups, and technological innovators, note that this extended copyright term threatens the public domain. The letter notes that “the extension of the copyright term results in a net welfare loss to society, and effectively amounts to a transfer of wealth to a small number of multinational copyright-holding companies … This transfer of welfare in favor of large corporate copyright owners will come at the cost of those who depend upon access to copyright works that would otherwise be in the public domain—libraries, students, artists, writers, and millions of other people.”

TPP negotiators are currently meeting behind closed doors in Ottawa, Canada, in an effort to finalize negotiations for the large regional trade agreement which now has twelve negotiating parties: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and the United States.