Canada has agreed to tough new rules surrounding internet piracy under the recently announced Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, and will also extend copyright terms by 20 years, documents released by Wikileaks show.
The TPP’s intellectual property chapter will extend Canada’s copyright terms from the life of the author plus 50 years to life of the author plus 70 years.
“As a result, works will be locked out of the public domain for decades at a cost to the public of hundreds of millions of dollars,” writes Michael Geist, the Canada Research Chair in Internet and e-Commerce Law at the University of Ottawa.
He points to a New Zealand government study estimating that extended copyright terms will cost residents of that country $55 million, spent on books, music and films that would otherwise have been in the public domain. New Zealand is one-ninth the size of Canada.
Conservative leader Stephen Harper trumpeted the TPP after negotiations concluded on Monday. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has voiced cautious support for the deal, while NDP leader Tom Mulcair has come out against it.
The TPP also requires member states to “induce” internet providers to “remove or disable” access to websites that are accused of piracy.
Geist says the way the rule is written means the government would have to push to block websites even if no Canadian court has determined it’s engaged in piracy. Simply being aware of a court ruling anywhere would require Canada to push for the website to be blocked, without an assessment of whether it contravenes Canadian law.
Canada’s current copyright length of life plus 50 was the international standard for years, but recently countries have been moving to extend copyright. Activists in the U.S. have dubbed these extensions “Mickey Mouse laws” because they argue they have been put into place to allow Disney to keep its copyright on the 87-year-old cartoon character.
The U.S. was largely behind the push for copyright extensions in the TPP.
Geist notes that New Zealand was able to carve out an exception for itself, delaying the implementation and making clear that works already in the public domain will not be retroactively put under copyright. “Canada, on the other hand, simply caved,” Geist wrote on his blog.
Canada also agreed to widen the range of copyright violations that are criminal, introducing a new criminal penalty for removal of digital locks on copyrighted content.
Geist notes Canada was able to retain its newly established and internationally lauded “notice and notice” system for non-commercial copyright violators.
Under the system, internet providers forward letters from copyright holders to customers who are accused of piracy. Copyright management companies say the rules have significantly decreased piracy in Canada, while avoiding costly lawsuits against small-time pirates.
But Geist argues that Canada paid “a high price” to keep these rules, in the form of those new website blocking rules.
The full, legally vetted text of the TPP may not be available until November, but International Trade Minister Ed Fast says he will release a “provisional copy” of the deal in the coming days.