The U.S. copyright lobby, led by the International Intellectual Property Alliance, appeared last week before a U.S. Congressional Committee hearing on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and made it clear that it wants the U.S. to use the trade agreement to force Canada to extend the term of copyright. Canadian copyright law is currently at life of the author plus 50 years, which meets the international standard found in the Berne Convention. The U.S. extended its copyright term years ago to life of the author plus 70 years under pressure from the Disney Corporation (Mickey Mouse was headed to the public domain) and has since pushed other countries to do the same.
The IIPA says that the TPP should require all members to extend their term of copyright (Japan and New Zealand are also at life plus 50 years), which it claims is needed to “maintain incentives for investment in the conservation and dissemination of older works.” Yet a recent study found the opposite with far more public domain books available commercially than books still subject to copyright.
When the Canadian government conducted a consultation on participation in the TPP, copyright was the top issue raised with many focusing on concerns associated with term extension. As I wrote last year, it is worth noting the many important authors who would be immediately affected since their works are scheduled to become public domain in the 2013 – 2033 period.
The list of Canadian authors whose work would be blocked from entering into the public domain includes:
- Gabrielle Roy, considered one of the most influential Canadian authors in history. Her book The Tin Flute won multiple awards and laid the foundation for the Quiet Revolution in Quebec in the 1960s.
- Donald Creighton, widely regarded as one of Canada’s most influential historians, with a major two volume biography on Sir John A. MacDonald that both won Governor General’s awards.
- Marshall McLuhan, one of the world’s leading media theorists.
- Gwethalyn Graham, who twice won Governor Genera’s awards and who became the first Canadian to have a novel appear on top of the New York Times best seller list.
- Hubert Aquin, a leading Quebec author, whose novel Next Episode, is regarded as a classic of Canadian literature.
- Ethel Wilson, regarded as one of the leading authors from B.C. The province’s top fiction award is named after her.
- E.J. Pratt, regarded as Canada’s foremost poet of the first half of the 20th century.
- Susan Wood, an award winning science fiction author, who received three Hugo awards.
- Winifred Bambrick, who won the Governor General’s Award for fiction in 1946.
- Winthrop Pickard Bell, one of Nova Scotia’s leading historians.
- Thomas Costain, who was a best selling author of historical novels.
- Ralph Allen, an award winning journalist, who won wrote several books on Canadian history.
- Hugh Garner, who won a Governor General’s award for short stories in 1963.
- Germaine Guèvremont, who won a Governor General’s award for fiction in 1950.
- A.M. Klein, one of Canada’s best known poets and Governor General award winner.
This list is obviously a tiny fraction of the authors whose works would be prevented from entering the public domain for decades if the U.S. copyright lobby gets their way. Given the potential to make those works more readily accessible to new generations once they enter the public domain, extending the term of copyright as potentially required by the TPP would have a dramatic negative effect on access to Canadian literature and history. Looking ahead, the likes of Margaret Laurence and Robertson Davies would be similarly delayed for 20 years.