Last month, there were several Canadian media reports on how the work of Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, had entered the public domain. While this was oddly described as a “copyright quirk”, it was no quirk. The term of copyright in Canada is presently life of the author plus an additional 50 years, a term that meets the international standard set by the Berne Convention. The issue of extending the term of copyright was discussed during the 2009 national copyright consultation, but the government wisely decided against it. Further, the European Union initially demanded that Canada extend the term of copyright in the Canada – EU Trade Agreement, but that too was effectively rebuffed.
If new reports out of Japan are correct, however, Canada may have caved to U.S. pressure to extend copyright term. The U.S. extended its term to life plus 70 years in 1998 in response to demands from the Disney Corporation (Mickey was headed to the public domain) and has since pressured other countries to match. NHK reports that a deal on copyright term has been reached within the TPP with countries agreeing to a life plus 70 term. Alongside Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Vietnam (the TPP countries that adhere to the Berne standard), it appears that Canada has dropped its opposition to the change.
From a policy perspective, there is no credible evidence that this will do anything other than leave Canadians with 20 years of no new works entering the public domain. Indeed, many economists have examined the issue and concluded that extending the term unsurprisingly does not create an additional incentive for new creativity. Moreover, studies in other countries that have extended term have concluded that it ultimately costs consumers millions of dollars in additional royalties, most of which are sent out of the country.
While the Canadian decision to cave to the U.S. on copyright is disappointing, it should be noted that there are reports that Canada may still find itself outside the TPP altogether. Recent reports indicate that Canada will be required to make significant agricultural concessions (ie. changes to supply management) as part of the agreement. Japan and the U.S. have been actively working on market access issues, but Canadian negotiations have stalled as they apparently wait for the U.S. and Japan to resolve their differences. With a federal election set for later this year, the government may prefer holding off on major changes and sit out the initial TPP deal. Regardless, if the Japanese reports are true, copyright term will not be one of the issues that holds up the TPP with Canada one of several countries set to cave to U.S. demands.