A few months ago, it was reported that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement may contain changes to copyright laws that many are calling “excessive.” In response to this, a growing number of lawyers, journalists, writers, and others involved in Japanese culture have signed a petition to convince the Japanese government to refuse such conditions.

If the agreement is reached, the minimum limit of copyrights could be extended by 20 years, and even non-copyright holders such as police and prosecutors may be given the ability to go after people for “infringements”. Those opposed feel that these changes could seriously damage the artistic freedom of Japan.

■ Give and take

Like many international trade agreements, the TPP would need to equalize the various regulations different countries have on their industries in order to let business occur without barriers. As a result these regulations are like bargaining chips. For example, say Japan wants to keep some rules to protect the fermented soy bean industry. They may negotiate letting another country impose its looser laws regarding something like genetically modified food in exchange for them getting our stringent fermentation regulations.

These offers go back and forth until all signatory countries backs are adequately scratched. Then the agreement is finalized and everyone’s life is improved…right?

■ Longer copyrights

Now it appears that copyrights are on the table, and some countries such as the United States are interested in getting their relatively heavy laws adopted by TPP partners. Some countries in particular (including Japan) have copyright limits of 50 years after the creator’s death, while other countries have 70 years after death. Obviously the TPP countries with longer periods would like to see them remain intact, because peeling them back would result in a huge mess.

Of course so would extending them for the other countries. The petition points out that altering this time frame in Japan would lead to an increase in orphan works which are copyright protected works that don’t have a clear or accessible holder. The problem of how to deal with all these locked works would suddenly pile up square in the lap of Japanese legislators. It’s actually a rather clever way to get through to politicians, by illustrating how much more work it would cause them.

■ Easier punishments

And then there’s the issue of allowing third parties to file charges against infringing parties on behalf of a copyright holder even without their awareness of it. As we’ve mulled over in a previous article, this privilege could conceivably lead to a crackdown on dōjinshi such as fan fiction. These works based on well established franchises are wide-spread in Japan and fuel the massive biannual Comikets.

Opponents say that this has the potential to handicap creativity in Japan significantly and cause a stagnant culture industry. However, whether either of the above conditions of TPP will actually be agreed upon is unknown since the negotiations are held behind closed doors.

■ The more the angrier

The petition has been signed by over 3,600 individuals including notable figures including manga writer Ken Akamatsu, international copyright lawyer Kensaku Fukui, and journalist Daisuke Tsuda (all pictured above) who has written extensively about intellectual property in the information age. About 110 organizations have also joined such as the Japan Playwrights Association.

The group continues to grow, and if you’d like to join you can visit the Think TPP website linked below which also has some limited English information and list of the names in the petition. So all you dōjin out there, now is the time to fight for your right to party. Actually, I guess it isn’t that much of a fight to type your name and click enter, is it? So, what are you waiting for?

Think TPP IP (Japanese/English)

Source: Asahi ShimbunJapan Playwrights Association (Japanese)

Video: YouTube – TBS News-i