20 July 2015
IFLA concerned by extension of copyright terms
IFLA supports balanced copyright law that promotes the advancement of society as a whole by giving strong and effective protection for the interests of rightsholders and reasonable access to encourage creativity, innovation, research, education and learning. Librarians and information professionals recognise and are committed to support the needs of their patrons to gain access to copyright works and the information and ideas they contain. They respect the needs of authors and copyright owners to obtain a fair economic return on their intellectual property.
IFLA supports the terms established in international copyright agreements, including the Berne Convention and The Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), both of which establish a minimum copyright term for literary works: the life of the author plus 50 years.
It is often assumed that economic growth benefits from ever-stronger intellectual property rights while some concession must be made to copyright exceptions for purely social reasons. In fact, in The 2015 Intellectual Property and Economic Growth Index: Measuring the Impact of Exceptions and Limitations in Copyright on Growth, Jobs and Prosperity, The Lisbon Council examined the relationship between economic growth and intellectual property regimes and found that countries that employ a broadly “flexible” regime of exceptions in copyright saw higher rates of growth in value-added output throughout their economies. This study and others demonstrate that many industries require access to copyright material for the purposes of research and development, education, software or hardware interoperability. A lack of reasonable access actually hurts economic growth.
In recent weeks, IFLA members have become concerned as they observed copyright changes in Jamaica and Canada that extend the term of copyright protection. A rich public domain and fair access to copyright protected material enhances creativity and the production of new works. Longer copyright terms withhold material from the public, benefitting rights holders and future generations, often without benefit to the original creator and regard to the public interest in the use of the work. IFLA believes that the economic rights of the rights holder or beneficiary must be balanced with society’s need to gain access to knowledge.
IFLA members are concerned that in Jamaica, a bill awaiting royal assent will extend copyright from life of the author plus 50 years to life of the author plus 95 years, and will be retroactive to 1962. The decision to include works published over the past 53 years has the potential to withdraw works from the public domain that were previously available to users. While the government referred to the need to align Jamaica’s copyright with international treaties, they have exceeded the minimum duration within those treaties by 45 years. The term proposed in this bill is longer than most industrialized nations, including the United States and many European countries, where the duration of the copyright term is life of the author plus 70 years. Rightsholders gain in these circumstances, while the public interest loses.
Our members are disturbed that in Canada, the government extended the copyright term for sound recordings from 50 years to 70 years. The change will affect a small number of artists, yet withhold music from the public domain that could enhance future creativity. Canada’s copyright law was modernized in 2012 in a process that included public consultation, yet this recent amendment was made outside of a public process. IFLA is concerned with the lack of transparency and the potential for further term extensions for copyright without public consultation and due weight given to the public interest in the use of the works.
For more information about IFLA’s position on copyright term and exceptions and limitation, visit Copyright Exceptions and Limitations for Libraries and Archives.