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Japan and U.S. align on TPP provisions that harm Japanese creators

An employee adjusts manga comics at a bookstore in Tokyo, 23 June 2014
An employee adjusts manga comics at a bookstore in Tokyo, 23 June 2014

REUTERS/Yuya Shino

This statement was originally published on eff.org on 12 August 2015.

Guest post from Martin Frid, Policy Expert at the Consumers Union of Japan.


Japan's entry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will see a wide range of changes sweeping the economy and the community, in areas as diverse as food safety/food security, country of origin labeling rules, and copyright. As a staff member of Consumers Union of Japan, I am concerned about all of these issues - but I'm writing here about the copyright changes, which unlike in many other TPP countries have sparked national attention.

Copyright has been a sticking point for Japan in its trading relationship with the United States dating all the way back to 1945, when Japan was required to award the victors of the Second World War with 10 years of additional copyright protection. The U.S., Australia, and New Zealand are still benefiting from that even now, and Japan has asked for this to be rolled back in the TPP.

But the U.S. negotiators are demanding the opposite: like five other TPP countries, Japan is being asked to extend its copyright term by another 20 years, from life of the author plus 50 years as the Berne Convention requires, to life plus 70 years, and even longer for corporate-owned works. This is a proposal that Japan has considered repeatedly and rejected on the grounds that it would not benefit Japanese creators. Yet the U.S. will not take no for an answer.

In addition, Japan is being asked to adopt stricter copyright enforcement rules, including sky-high statutory damages awards, and the ability for police to take criminal action against alleged copyright infringers, even if the copyright owner does not file a complaint.

Japanese Creative Sector Speaks Out


The Japan Playwrights Association, the Japan Theatrical Producers Association, and the Japan Theatre Arts Association jointly issued an appeal, opposing the Japanese government's participation in the TPP negotiations. Their appeal expresses strong concern that controversial issues on intellectual property rights are negotiated without any prior public debate in Japan.

Yoji Sakate, chairman of the Japan Playwrights Association, warns that if copyright protection is extended to 70 years, many scripts will become orphaned works unable to be utilized as theatrical productions, thus becoming unused treasures. They are urging the government to disclose all the information which indicates both the merits and demerits of joining the TPP talks, and to have officials promise to withdraw from the negotiations if they turn out to be detrimental to Japan's national interests.

Concerning non-tariff barriers, the appeal stresses that domestic laws and policies designed to protect the Japanese people should be given priority. The government should not be given a free hand to go forth with the negotiations without disclosing information or providing chances for public debate, the appeal states.

The proposals have also spooked Japanese otaku (fans), who are rightly worried that police could crack down on their harmless enjoyment of manga and anime, through activities like cosplay and doujinshi (fan-produced comics) that might be technically infringing, but which copyright owners tolerate because it is harmless or even beneficial to them.

Japan Aligns With the United States

Worrying signs from the recent Maui meeting of TPP ministers and negotiators and from the recently leaked draft of the IP chapter, show Japanese negotiators moving closer to the United States on anti-patent/copyright abuse issues and even against recognition of the importance of the public domain. This has motivated Japanese activists to step up their campaigns against the agreement and to reassert the right of Japanese citizens to have a say in the rules that they live by.

A coalition of Japanese copyright activists calling themselves the Japan Forum for the Intellectual Property Aspects and Transparency of TPP - or thinkTPPIP for short - presented a petition to the Diet (Parliament) on July 23, in which 110 groups and 3637 individuals speak out against copyright term extension and the new enforcement measures. In the wake of the Maui meeting, the petition has been opened up again for endorsement by organizations and by individuals, and will be presented with the updated list of signatories ahead of the next (yet unannounced) round of negotiations.

On its TPP's Copyright Trap page EFF links to more articles about how the threat of copyright term extension under the TPP impacts users around the world.

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