The just-concluded Trans-Pacific Partnership is already one of the most controversial trade pacts on record, not least in areas of public domain and copyright legislation. News of its completion has only fed worries about its potential impact in these areas. The secrecy surrounding the negotiations certainly hasn’t helped. In Australia, the government has moved to reassure the public that local public domain terms are safe. But are they?
Up till now, Australia has had a relatively friendly death-plus-50-years public domain limit, modified in 2004 to a death-plus-70 term, but only for authors who have died since this change, meaning that an author who died before 1955 is normally in the Oz public domain. You can see the results on sites like Project Gutenberg Australia or the University of Adelaide’s eBooks@Adelaide archive, where works locked out of the public domain under US copyright law, like Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind or and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, are freely available for download. (Not that I would ever for one moment encourage US readers to violate the legitimate profiteering of Big Media, and the fair, just, and democratically decided provisions of the Mickey Mouse Protection Act, by virtually schlepping over to Oz to download these inalienable treasures of their cultural legacy from non-profit sites, for free.)
The Australian Digital Alliance and Oz ereaders in general feared that all this was under threat from the TPP. Now, recently-installed Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has released a statement, together with his Minister for Trade and Investment, Andrew Robb, declaring that “the TPP will not require any changes to Australia’s intellectual property laws or policies, whether in copyright, pharmaceutical patents or enforcement.” Further information including the full text of the agreement is apparently to be made available soon.
Strewth, cobber, that’s a relief. On the other hand, I assume that Australian printings of Gone with the Wind are not going to be on the post-TPP list of permitted exports to the US. Plus, other interpretations of the news aren’t anything like so positive.
“Users Have Been Betrayed in the Final TPP Deal,” declared the Electronic Frontier Foundation, adding “throughout all that time, the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) has acted as a de facto representative of the Hollywood big media lobbies in pushing other countries to adopt the most punitive aspects of U.S. copyright policies—such as our over-the-top civil and criminal penalties—while at best giving lip service to pro-user aspects such as fair use.” And it appears that Canada may not have been so lucky or tough in its dealings with the USTR. Project Gutenberg Canada is still pushing for a vote against Stephen Harper and his incumbent Conservative government in Canada’s October elections, to defend Canadian public domain terms.
“In the name of preserving profits for a handful of rightsholders, our cultural history is left to decay in legally imposed obscurity,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation has complained about The Great Gatsby. How much of Australia’s copyright freedom may have gone with the wind? We’ll have to wait and see when the actual TPP texts get published.