Gone with the Copyright WindThe just-concluded Trans-Pacific Partnership is already one of the most controversial trade pacts on record, not least in areas of public domain and copyright legislation. News of its completion has only fed worries about its potential impact in these areas. The secrecy surrounding the negotiations certainly hasn’t helped. In Australia, the government has moved to reassure the public that local public domain terms are safe. But are they?

Up till now, Australia has had a relatively friendly death-plus-50-years public domain limit, modified in 2004 to a death-plus-70 term, but only for authors who have died since this change, meaning that an author who died before 1955 is normally in the Oz public domain. You can see the results on sites like Project Gutenberg Australia or the University of Adelaide’s eBooks@Adelaide archive, where works locked out of the public domain under US copyright law, like Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind or and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, are freely available for download. (Not that I would ever for one moment encourage US readers to violate the legitimate profiteering of Big Media, and the fair, just, and democratically decided provisions of the Mickey Mouse Protection Act, by virtually schlepping over to Oz to download these inalienable treasures of their cultural legacy from non-profit sites, for free.)

The Australian Digital Alliance and Oz ereaders in general feared that all this was under threat from the TPP. Now, recently-installed Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has released a statement, together with his Minister for Trade and Investment, Andrew Robb, declaring that “the TPP will not require any changes to Australia’s intellectual property laws or policies, whether in copyright, pharmaceutical patents or enforcement.” Further information including the full text of the agreement is apparently to be made available soon.

Strewth, cobber, that’s a relief. On the other hand, I assume that Australian printings of Gone with the Wind are not going to be on the post-TPP list of permitted exports to the US. Plus, other interpretations of the news aren’t anything like so positive.

“Users Have Been Betrayed in the Final TPP Deal,” declared the Electronic Frontier Foundation, adding “throughout all that time, the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) has acted as a de facto representative of the Hollywood big media lobbies in pushing other countries to adopt the most punitive aspects of U.S. copyright policies—such as our over-the-top civil and criminal penalties—while at best giving lip service to pro-user aspects such as fair use.” And it appears that Canada may not have been so lucky or tough in its dealings with the USTR. Project Gutenberg Canada is still pushing for a vote against Stephen Harper and his incumbent Conservative government in Canada’s October elections, to defend Canadian public domain terms.

“In the name of preserving profits for a handful of rightsholders, our cultural history is left to decay in legally imposed obscurity,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation has complained about The Great Gatsby. How much of Australia’s copyright freedom may have gone with the wind? We’ll have to wait and see when the actual TPP texts get published.


  1. As much as I can’t understand people who worship money, I have an even greater problem understanding those who worship those who have money and do their bidding, as the TPP illustrates. Pandering to Big Entertainment is so pitiful.

    Those who want to grasp just how wicked Hollywood has long been should read Ben Urwand’s excellent The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler.

    During the 1930s, Hollywood’s movie producers didn’t just act on their own to tilt their movies to suit Nazi Germany’s leaders. As the book’s title suggest, they collaborated with a representative of Nazi Germany in Hollywood who gave a thumbs up or down to parts of scripts. What he wanted changed was changed.

    Think about it a moment. The mid-to-late 1930s was a great time for movies, so much so that it is often called Hollywood’s Golden Age. But try to recall a movie that put Nazi Germany in a bad light, even indirectly. At best, I seem to recall one Hitchcock film that took a novel that had Germany as the bad country and turned that country into an unnamed bad one. Pitiful.

    Keep in mind the reason too. As Goebbels, Nazi propaganda minister admitted, Germany did not know how to make good films. To get good films, they had to import them from the U.S. That meant a lot of money for Hollywood during those Depression years. And as any proper dictatorship would, Nazi Germany made clear that a single anti-Nazi film coming out of Hollywood and playing anywhere in the world would shut off all imports of all Hollywood films to Germany. German embassies were tasked to make sure Hollywood did not cheat on that threat.

    –Michael W. Perry, editor of Dachau Liberated

  2. How about being an unwitting stooge to big tech? They have a lot more money than entertainment companies, certainly more than authors and artists, and you are lapping up their agenda – to hurt the rights of contet creators, so they can make more and more money without having to pay the people who do the work. They are more powerful and voracious than any ‘Hollywood’ and you’ve bought their lies, hook line and sinker.

The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail newteleread@gmail.com.