Masters of our (public) domain
A post by Michael Geist on his blog this week is spreading online and spurring debate about Canada’s public domain and who, exactly, benefits from it.
Currently, works enter the public domain in Canada 50 years after the death of the author, which is less than in many European countries and in the U.S., where the terms is 70 years. But the Canadian government is considering joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free-trade agreement between countries including Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and the United States. Japan and Mexico, like Canada, have expressed interest in participating in the agreement. Our government is seeking public feedback on the idea until Feb. 14 (details here).
According to Geist, leaked documents suggest that if Canada does join the agreement, it will have to bring its public-domain terms in line with those of the existing participating nations, which means adding 20 years. To demonstrate the concrete effects of this change, Geist lists some of the notable authors whose works would, rather than entering it in the next 20 years, stay out of the public domain until after 2033: international such as authors Aldous Huxley, John Steinbeck, and JRR Tolkein and Canadian authors including Gabrielle Roy, Marshall McLuhan, and journalist Ralph Allen.
Geist calls on readers to speak out against Canada participating in the TPP, and has received support from Canadian tech journalist Cory Doctorow, but not everyone agrees. Read the comments on Geist’s posts on his blog and on HuffPost Canada and Doctorow’s on BoingBoing and you’ll see some in favour of extending the term, arguing that it’s in the interests of creators and publishers to do so, and others who argue there’s no benefit to the long-dead authors and only publishers stand to profit. Those against the extension also argue that keep works out of the public domain inhibits the ability of authors now who might creatively adapt those works, citing examples like Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
What are your thoughts on public domain and who benefits from it most? Do you think it’s a good idea for Canada to participate in the TPP if it means keeping important works out of the public domain for an additional 20 years? Do you make use of public domain works in your own research and writing? Please share your thoughts below.