[Maira Sutton, EFF, Link (CC-BY)] “We are deeply concerned about this situation in which important decisions for our nation’s culture and society are being made behind closed doors” reads a joint public statement from Japanese activists who are fighting the copyright provisions in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). A group of artists, archivists, academics, and activists, have joined forces in Japan to call on their negotiators to oppose requirements in the TPP that would require their country, and five of the other 11 nations negotiating this secretive agreement, to expand their copyright terms to match the United States’ already excessive length of copyright.
Negotiators have reportedly agreed to set their copyright terms to the length of an author’s life plus 70 years. Since the news was leaked, there has been growing opposition among Japanese users, artists, and fans against this copyright expansion—which is nicknamed the “Mickey Mouse Law” there due to Disney’s heavy lobbying that led to the copyright extension in the United States nearly two decades ago. The issue gained substantial awareness when prominent Japanese copyright lawyer, Kensaku Fukui, wrote a blog post about the TPP’s threats to Japanese Internet users and culture that went viral a month ago.
In addition to opposing lengthy copyright terms, the anime and fan-art community are also concerned about the TPP’s criminal enforcement provisions. There is a particular section that says that “competent authorities may act upon their own initiative to initiate a legal action without the need for a formal complaint” by the copyright holder. The fear is that this would lead to a major crackdown on derivative works, including written or drawn fan fiction, recorded music covers of songs, or cosplayers, who may upload photos of themselves dressed as characters. These are all elements of Japan’s thriving “otaku” culture, which has spread around the world and brought in millions of dollars for Japanese creators. Japan does not have a U.S.-style fair use system, in which there are flexibilities for uses based upon the nature, purpose, amount, and effect of the use on the market for the original copyrighted work. So Japanese fans could be criminally liable for their work if any “competent authority” can claim that a derivative work constitutes criminal copyright infringement. This would have a huge chilling effect on vibrant communities of fan fiction that exist on Japanese websites.
Both the copyright term expansion and the non-complaint provision previously failed to pass in Japan because they were so controversial. Now that we at least know for certain that copyright extensions could pass in the TPP, the media there is finally taking notice. The organizers made national news as major Japanese news outlets covered the event.
We are thrilled to see this issue get such mainstream attention in Japan, and support their statement calling on negotiators to remove all controversial copyright provisions from the TPP, including the copyright term extensions, criminal enforcement, anti-circumvention of DRM, intermediary liability, and others. The EFF is also working alongside the Fair Deal Coalition, the international coalition of digital rights groups from TPP-negotiating nations, to create a project to fight the TPP copyright extensions. Stay tuned for this new global effort to stop the TPP from capturing more of our valuable shared culture through the trap of copyright’s restrictions.