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.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Sep 2015 @ 3:59am

    Oh look, it's theft again. They stole from people. This is stealing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      orbitalinsertion (profile), 9 Sep 2015 @ 6:23am

      Re:

      You don't see a difference between infringement and wholesale removal of equal legal access to everyone?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 9 Sep 2015 @ 8:25am

        Re: Re:

        I think you've missed the AC's point - that this is actual theft, by the Jamaican government, from the people.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 9 Sep 2015 @ 10:11am

          Re: Re: Re:

          correct it just happens to be legalized theft.

          When the government does it, you either fight back with enough people or you just learn to deal with it.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Blackfiredragon13 (profile), 9 Sep 2015 @ 4:20am

    What was the term previously? 70, 80 years I'm guessing?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 9 Sep 2015 @ 4:36am

    Whew

    That was close, can you imagine if the corpses of all those musicians stopped getting their royalty payments? What possible incentive would they, or anyone, have had to create anything at all if you only got paid for it five decades after you died, rather than nine and a half?

    It was close, but it looks like creativity has been saved, at least in Jamaica, for several more years.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 9 Sep 2015 @ 8:44am

      Re: Whew

      That was close, can you imagine if the corpses of all those musicians stopped getting their royalty payments?

      They would have decomposed.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Michael Chermside, 9 Sep 2015 @ 4:58am

    Legal Question on Derivative Works

    Since these works were already in the public domain, I am sure that many derivative works have already been created based on them. I wonder whether anyone with knowledge of the newly passed law can comment on how it affects these already-existing derivative works.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 9 Sep 2015 @ 5:10am

      Re: Legal Question on Derivative Works

      It would likely depend on whether Jamaica has any fair use laws, and if so how robust they are. It they don't have fair use though, I imagine some people might be facing some nasty threat letters to 'pay up' fairly soon.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 9 Sep 2015 @ 5:46am

        Re: Re: Legal Question on Derivative Works

        Not even that, I'm afraid. For example, a "robust" fair use policy might well cover short samples or non-commercial usage (depending on your use of the term, of course). If an artist has covered the entire song for commercial reasons, as an example, then even with fair use protections their song has gone from perfectly legal to absolutely infringing overnight.

        Then, of course, how do the courts view the change in copyright ruling? If the retroactive nature of the copyright change is deemed to include royalties, a lot of people may well be in trouble despite having followed the law perfectly at the time they created their own work.

        I'm sure we'll find out before too long, and if nothing else this will be an interesting test given the history and worldwide appeal of Jamaican music.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Sep 2015 @ 5:34am

      Re: Legal Question on Derivative Works

      The lawyers will make lots of money.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        tqk (profile), 9 Sep 2015 @ 7:46am

        Re: Re: Legal Question on Derivative Works

        The lawyers will make lots of money.

        Lots of people will make money. The politicians and judges have their bribes and will soon be buying new boats, planes, and real estate, renovating their palaces, and padding their retirement packages. Performance rights orgs will have a field day shaking down small business. The tax man may make some too, but considering how corrupt these people tend to be, likely not much (just like the bribed politicos who sell out for peanuts).

        I doubt much will wind up enriching artists though. Good job, MafiAA!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 9 Sep 2015 @ 5:40am

      Re: Legal Question on Derivative Works

      Good point, and it also bring up the question of orphaned works yet again. If something was legal upon its creation (or expected to be public domain by this point in time) and the rules change, whose responsibility is it to make sure it's not suddenly infringing? Therein lies one of the major problems with retroactive changes in the law. After all, an artist can only deal with the law at the time he created his music.

      I fear that the real answer will be - is the work owned by or deemed profitable for a major corporation? If not, they will likely be deemed illegal. Although, I hope someone with real knowledge turns up to explain things properly.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Sep 2015 @ 5:11am

    Copyright poisons everything, including the public domain.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    skonky wonky, 9 Sep 2015 @ 5:12am

    now is the time

    It's now time to kill your government, american idiots, jamaicain fuckwits, european cunts all should die from bullet wounds to their cunts all of the fucking cunts.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Sep 2015 @ 5:20am

    "I have public domain."
    *Law is made*
    "It's just been revoked."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Éibhear Ó hAnluain, 9 Sep 2015 @ 6:59am

    Perpetual copyright

    I wonder what country will be the first to pass a law making copyright a perpetual thing.

    Must see if Paddy Power is giving odds...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Sep 2015 @ 7:39am

      Re: Perpetual copyright

      The United Kingdom, during the rule of King James in 1775. Needless to say this as been repealed.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        David, 9 Sep 2015 @ 8:49am

        Re: Re: Perpetual copyright

        The U.S., during the rule of Mickey Mouse in 1976 and 1998. It's the same kind of theft, just with a perpetual "we'll give it back the day after tomorrow" promise attached.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 9 Sep 2015 @ 4:24pm

      Re: Perpetual copyright

      As long as 'effectively perpetual copyright' counts, then any country with life+ duration copyright already has.

      If the duration of something lasts longer than your lifetime, then whether it's 5 years after you die or 5,000 doesn't really matter, it's effectively eternal.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Sep 2015 @ 7:31am

    95 years.. lmao, I see a musical liberation coming where no one cares about copyright .. oh wait most people don't care because they realize the law doesn't take into consideration the will of the people only the greedy and lawyers,which are one in the same for the most part.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 9 Sep 2015 @ 9:51am

    After all, there is no rule that says copyright can only be extended, never shortened -- that it is subject to an irreversible ratchet.

    Yes there is: International treaties. You can't just let countries shorten copyright terms! The corporations will see to that!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Sep 2015 @ 10:10am

    Copyright This

    As I watch governments around the world abuse their power to appease greedy corporations I gain less respect for copyright all the time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 9 Sep 2015 @ 10:23am

    I thought there were only pirates in Jamaica

    Since it costs a month's income to purchase a legitimate blu-ray movie or computer game, the notion of actually purchasing a thing from a legitimate source is ridiculous.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Sep 2015 @ 10:45am

    Maybe a maximum of 70 years

    The Constitution says that copyright shall be for a limited time. I'm not sure how copyright lasting longer than 100% of the population is a limited time.

    I like a maximum of 70 years.
    14-year initial term.
    4 non-automatically renewing 14-year terms.

    28 years was the initial term for copyright in this country. I'd prefer to see 28 years, but that would cause apoplectic fits.

    Just imagine if patents lasted as long as copyright. Any Henry Ford patents on the automobile would still be in effect.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Sep 2015 @ 12:19pm

    So would the public be able to sue under Corporate Sovereignty provisions for this unlawful taking?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Sep 2015 @ 12:37pm

    Couldn't the Jamaican artists who don't agree with this just say they waive the extension for anything they personally created, instead forbidding anyone from "protecting" their work without asking them first?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      tqk (profile), 9 Sep 2015 @ 2:24pm

      Re:

      Couldn't the Jamaican artists who don't agree with this just say they waive the extension for anything they personally created ...

      There was an idiot or two here just last week who refused to believe Dan Bull still controlled his copyrights once he told anybody who wanted to use his stuff to have at 'em for free.

      Then again, he's an artist/creator, so why would they care about his opinion? It's not going to fill their wallets.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Sep 2015 @ 3:02pm

      Re:

      Only if they have not transferred their copyrights to a music label or other publisher, and those entities won't waive a millisecond of the copyright term, unless it is the last millisecond of an infinite term.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 11 Sep 2015 @ 2:57am

      Re:

      Because a great many of those artists will not be in a position to do any such thing (they're dead, they signed their copyrights over to a corporation, etc.).

      Besides, this isn't about whether individual artists agree. It's about decades of history that has or should be public property being retroactively taken from the public. Even if all the artists agreed in some fashion, it's still a gross violation of the agreement they had at the time the works were published.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Aaron Walkhouse (profile), 9 Sep 2015 @ 2:22pm

    Looks like Jamaica is about to get a Pirate Party of it's own. ;]

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer
Anonymous number for texting and calling from Hushed. $25 lifetime membership, use code TECHDIRT25
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.