TPP limits creative expression

TPP limits creative expression

By Abraham Gross, Staff Writer

The recent release of the long-secret Trans-Pacific Partnership — a trade agreement with 12 signatory countries, including the United States — has prompted controversy. The agreement has been criticized for its pro-corporate leanings, and the full text reveals just how far the signatories have catered to big business interests. In particular, the extension of copyright in the TPP threatens creative expression across the Pacific and sets a dangerous precedent for the future.

In Article 18.63, the TPP guarantees copyright protection for the life of an author and an additional 70 years after the author’s death. Signatory countries that have copyright protection until 50 years after the death of the author will all be bound by this new limit once the agreement is ratified. The fact that this protection has often been dubbed “the Mickey Mouse clause” explains why it is so appealing to corporations. It guarantees that creations are protected from unauthorized reproduction and reuse. But this provision also limits the creative expression of citizens in TPP countries, because it lacks a provision that people in the United States are privileged to have: Fair Use.

The Copyright Act of 1976 grants U.S. citizens the right to reproduce copyrighted work for criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship and research. This Fair Use clause allows individuals, under certain parameters, to reproduce copyrighted work for creative purposes without permission or a royalty payment. This reproduction can take the form of satire or political commentary, both subversive forms of entertainment that depend on the protection of free expression. Though the TPP recommends in Article 18.66 that all parties “endeavour to achieve an appropriate balance” and give “due consideration” to similar uses as those under Fair Use, “due consideration” is a pathetic excuse for a lack of a mandated system. The copyright extension in the TPP should have been accompanied by a version of Fair Use, and by not guaranteeing protection for criticism and comment, this trade agreement is a de facto extension of a legal prison sentence for creative expression.

Not only is Fair Use necessary for unfettered artistic expression, but it also helps immortalize intellectual properties in the cultural consciousness, elevating mass media to art. It is hard to imagine “Star Wars” would have been nearly as influential if it were not parodied, reinterpreted and reimagined, maintaining relevance and sales value through continual rebirth. Works that do not tolerate change and rejuvenation risk going stale. Even if a TPP without Fair Use is in the interest of creators and companies alike, society as a whole suffers when creations are segregated from the rest of popular culture.

A version of this article appeared in the Nov. 30 print edition. Email Abraham Gross at [email protected]

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