Canadian Public Domain Not Good Enough For German Publisher

from the this-is-not-the-public-domain-you-were-looking-for dept

It's no secret that different countries have different lengths for copyright. That's why there are constant debates over copyright extension, as countries with shorter terms for copyright are pressured by those with longer terms to extend (or, better yet, to leapfrog) copyright terms. Otherwise, you end up with the situation where content in one country is in the public domain, while it's still under copyright elsewhere. In the age of the internet, where borders are somewhat meaningless online, that's going to cause some problems. Witness the situation with the International Music Score Library Project, a wiki-based project in Canada, for publishing public domain music scores online. The site was careful about copyright, making sure that the only content published was in the public domain. Since the site is based in Canada, it focused on Canadian copyright law and what was in the public domain in that country. Apparently, that was seen as problematic to a German publisher, Universal Edition AG, who found that some of the musical scores that are in the public domain in Canada are still under copyright in Germany. Universal Edition then hired a Toronto law firm to send a cease and desist letter, that caused the entire site to be taken down. Yes, even though all of the content was perfectly legal under Canadian law, this German publisher was able to get it taken offline because some of the content was still under copyright in Europe. If this type of thing is allowed to stand, then we reach a point where all copyright online automatically is covered by the absolute most draconian and stringent levels of copyright law, no matter what the law is anywhere else. That doesn't seem either reasonable or fair.

Filed Under: canada, copyright, copyright extension, eu, international music score library project, public domain
Companies: universal edition ag


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  1. identicon
    Hulser, 22 Oct 2007 @ 10:56am

    Re: What exactly is the problem?

    >They can serve content online, if they ensure they don't
    >provide access where it is illegal to do so. We know that
    >can't be reliably done. Thus, the right thing to do is to
    >shut down the site.
    AC, you make some good points, but I do not agree that the site should be shut down. Yes, if a Canadian were to distribute printed scores in the scenario you describe, Canadian copyright law would be violated. But the Internet introduces such a drastic change in the assumptions upon which these laws were based, doesn't this require some latitude in how we handle this?

    Instead of the publisher being responsible for the filtering, what about the country that has the more onerus copyright law? Basically say, fine, if you want to have more stringent copyright laws, then put up a virtual wall around your country and block content that violates your laws.

    As a practical matter, a web site that publishes content on the Internet cannot be aware of every copyright law out there. But a country is obviously aware of its own laws. Just block content that violates your laws. If the country's citizens are OK with that, then OK. If not, they should change their laws (or the government).

    Personally, I don't like the concept of a government blocking content from its citizens, but it's better than demanding that every other country conform to its laws.

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