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Copyright concessions may be downside of TPP deal

Marshall McLuhan: His books would go into the public domain in 2030 under existing law, but the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal could mean that the copyright continues until 2050.

National Film Board of Canada

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a good deal for Canada. It will give Canadian businesses new access to markets in Asia and provide consumers with less expensive goods.

But no deal is perfect. Based on the few details available at this point, Canada may have yielded to changes to its copyright regime by agreeing to extend protections on original works from the current 50 years beyond the death of the author, to 70.

In effect, this country and the other TPP partners will adopt U.S. rules that were largely crafted by lobbyists for Disney, which sought to forestall Mickey Mouse entering the public domain.

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There is no mention of this on the federal government website summarizing the pact. Instead, it emerged via leaks and information released by other countries, and was brought to the fore by intellectual property experts like University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist, who reckons Ottawa "caved."

Under Canada's current regime, the copyright on myriad Canadian works – such as the ground-breaking theories of Marshall McLuhan and the novels of Gabrielle Roy and Hubert Aquin – will lift in the coming two decades.

Extending the copyright would come at a cost to Canadian consumers, possibly in the hundreds of millions of dollars. It's not clear where the benefits are. Nor is it exactly clear what this has to do with free trade.

It would appear Canada made other sacrifices to its copyright regime at the TPP table. In Prof. Geist's interpretation, Canada's internet providers may be forced into a U.S.-style regime of "notice and takedown" – wherein complaints result in blocked or removed content even if they haven't been ruled as a violation by a court.

The chilling effect of this isn't theoretical. Litigious U.S. entertainment conglomerates have been known to issue notices against content that transparently isn't theirs.

Since the TPP deal was announced, there have been other concerns. A big one is the inclusion of provisions that may open the door to more temporary foreign workers in Canada. But we don't yet know the scope and details of this. Which is why the most serious issue right now is making the agreement public as quickly as possible, so Canadians can finally see what they are getting into.

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