The Japanese government is considering making changes to its copyright law which could see authors of protected works retain rights for an extra 20 years.
Current law provides protection for an author’s life plus 50 years after its death, but proposals have been made to extend the period to 70 years.
If implemented, the changes would protect songwriters, composers and music publishers, and would bring Japan’s copyright law in line with legislation in the US and EU.
The proposals stem from Japan’s desire to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free trade agreement between countries in the pacific region currently under negotiation and being spearheaded by the US.
According to Kensaku Takase, partner at the Tokyo office of Baker & McKenzie LLP, the US is understood to have been pressuring participating countries to strengthen their IP laws.
The Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers are among the groups that have been lobbying for an extension to copyright laws but, according to Yasufumi Shiroyama, partner at Anderson Mori & Tomotsune, the proposed changes are due to a desire to join the TPP and not pressure from lobbyists.
Expressing concern at the TPP model, Takase said: “It [TPP] is not a copyright treaty – it is a trade treaty with its main focus being agricultural trade. As such, the fact that copyright aspects have been introduced to negotiations is seen by some as being a way of implementing preferences which would benefit one country’s copyright industries over another.
“The danger for a US copyright holder [under current Japanese laws] would be that their copyright in one country would have expired earlier than other countries.”
Despite admitting that the proposals would improve trade, Takase conceded that they are “only a fraction” of the changes needed across Japan’s IP law to make it consistent with the US and EU.
“Japanese laws, especially in the IP arena, are unique. The more aligned Japan can get its laws with the US and EU, the much easier it will be for IP to be traded,” he said.
“There will still remain a significant number of differences. There is isolated focus on copyright and no focus on other areas of IP law which logically should also be addressed, such as trademark law.”
Countries participating in current TPP negotiations include: Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the US and Vietnam.
After a final decision is taken by Japan, changes could be implemented within a year.
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