Jamaican Government Steals Years Of Public Domain Works From Its People
from the jammin'-the-jammin' dept
Just under four years ago, Techdirt reported that Jamaica was planning something extremely foolish: a retroactive extension to its copyright term. As that article noted, when the European Union did something similar, the European Commission’s own figures showed that the move would cost the EU public around one billion Euros, and it was inevitable that the Jamaican people would also lose out if the move went ahead.
The fact that we’ve heard nothing for four years might have nourished the hope that the Jamaican government had come to its senses, and thrown out any plans it had to short-change its own people in this way. No such luck, of course. Indeed, a depressing post from the EFF reveals that the recently-passed legislation is down there with the worst:
The copyright term in Jamaica is now 95 years from the death of the author, or 95 years from publication for government and corporate works. This makes it the third-longest copyright term in the world, after Mexico and Côte d’Ivoire respectively with 100 and 99 years from the death of the author.
But there’s more:
The extension was made retroactive to January 1962. Besides being the year when Jamaica attained independence, 1962 also just so happens to have been the year when Jamaican ska music (a popular genre in its own right, but also a precursor of the even more popular reggae) burst onto the international music scene. The parallels with the extension of the U.S. copyright term in the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act” are quite eerie. But, worse than what happened into the U.S., the retrospective effect of the law means that works that have already passed into the public domain in Jamaica are now to be wrenched back out again.
Under the new copyright law, foreign users of Jamaican copyrights are not bound by the extended copyright term, and yet Jamaicans are obliged to honor foreign copyrights for the full extended term. As the EFF notes:
all that this measure has accomplished is that citizens of Jamaica, a developing country, will be paying more money into Hollywood’s coffers, while Jamaica’s own rich cultural heritage draws in not a penny more in return.
What’s especially ridiculous here is that Jamaica’s own ska and reggae success owed much to the lack of copyright protections at the time. It was that lack of copyright enforcement that allowed the music to spread and become a global phenomenon.
This law is so bad that you might hope a future Jamaican government would simply repeal it. After all, there is no rule that says copyright can only be extended, never shortened — that it is subject to an irreversible ratchet. But imagine what would happen if this were proposed. Copyright companies and artists would be apoplectic, and doubtless start screaming that their rights and property were being being “stolen,” because something they had would be taken away from them under the change.
But the same logic applies to situations where copyright is extended, and the passage of works into the public domain delayed, especially if works that are already in the public domain are actively removed from it. In this case, the public has inarguably had something taken away from it — a right to use a huge number of works in any way without needing to obtain a license from somebody. And that, of course, is exactly what has happened in Jamaica, thanks to the introduction of this retroactive 45-year term extension. It’s a perfect example of real copyright theft, not the fake kind claimed so often by fans of a greedy intellectual monopoly that always wants more.