The Trans-Pacific Partnership: Free Trade and the Never-Ending Copyrights

January 19, 2016

International trade is an important driver of human flourishing. Free trade agreements can facilitate more of this kind of trade while knocking down protectionist barriers. But trade agreements can also enshrine cronyism and rent-seeking, harming consumers across the globe.

Take copyright. The Trans-Pacific Partnership will require governments to protect copyrights for 70 years after an author’s death, so that generations from now people in some of the poorest places on earth won’t be able to watch very old movies unless they pay royalties to the creator’s grandchildren’s grandchildren!

Ridiculously long copyright terms are among the excesses of U.S. copyright law that big media companies want to continue to see included in future trade agreements.

So much of what we do online every day—posting a meme, reviewing a book, or even just using a search engine—relies on an exception to copyright protection known as fair use. If trade agreements will continue to be used to spread U.S. copyright law, they should balance the rights of creators and users, which fair use attempts to do.

Trade agreements, while exporting copyright restrictions, haven’t recognized fair use. The TPP is the first trade agreement that includes a provision calling on members to balance copyright protection with exception like fair use. This would bring the TPP’s copyright rules more in line with U.S. law, it would also help those rules align better with the goals of free trade by promoting open commerce in a digital world.

Trade agreements can bring enormous benefits to the poorest people on earth, like cheaper food, clothing and energy.

Achieving those goals is simply more important than trying to reassure big media companies that children in Maylasia won’t watch Snow White without paying for it.

More commentary by Bill Watson: https://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/strong-fair-use-provision-could-help-balance-tpps-copyright-rules

https://www.cato.org/events/will-transatlantic-trade-investment-partnership-live-its-promise

Produced by Caleb O. Brown, Cory Cooper, and Tess Terrible

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