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Dangers of complacency on TPP and US copyright term extension

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) seems unlikely to be passed in the US or Canada, prior to the new US President taking office on January 19, 2017. However, we need to be vigilant against efforts to pass it without due public input. The TPP is not expected to impact copyright duration in the US, but it would extend the duration of copyright protection in many other countries, including Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

In the US, annual copyright term expiry is set to begin again in 2019, after a 20-year hiatus due to the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998. On January 1, 2019, items published in 1923 will enter the public domain in the US. In the early days of Project Gutenberg, growth of the public domain on January 1 was an annual event. See Duke Law’s “Public Domain Day “for a listing of many items that were scheduled to enter the public domain, but have yet to do so because of the 1998 extension.

Meanwhile, it is possible that a copyright term extension will be introduced and passed, while attention is elsewhere during the final days of the US Presidential contest. The 1998 extension, which was the last of 14 copyright term extensions in the 20th century, occurred at the same time as the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. Distraction was a benefit to that law’s passage, and it is conceivable that history could repeat itself. Project Gutenberg is against the TPP, and in favor of renewed growth of the public domain due to copyright term expiration.

More about the Trans-Pacific Partnership: The treaty text is online at https://ustr.gov/trade-agreements/free-trade-agreements/trans-pacific-partnership/tpp-full-text. It includes a section on “Intellectual Property” which would force copyright term extensions and other restrictions on the public domain. Visit https://www.eff.org/issues/tpp for some analysis of the TPP’s negative impacts.

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