Beware of TPP's effects on copyright

Copyright is important for artists. I've written about it before in this column but there have since been changes to the relevant legislation and some concerns have been raised, by artists among others.

Like patents, copyrights are a form of intellectual property and as they are often owned initially by the creator of the thing that may be copied, they can be of significant money value to the artist.

At present, copyright in New Zealand is governed by the Copyright Act 1994 and its subsequent amendments and by the provisions of several international agreements to which New Zealand is a party.

These include the Berne Convention of 1928, the Universal Copyright Convention of 1952 and the Trips Agreement of 1994.

If you own the copyright, you have an exclusive right to copy the work, to publishing, issuing or selling copies to the public, to performing, playing or showing the work in public, to broadcasting it or making any work derived or adapted from the copyrighted work.

You don't need to register the work. The law ensures the copyright exists.

This applies to literary works, which include song lyrics, computer programs and compilations of data; to dramatic works; and to artistic works, which include plans, maps, models and buildings as well as paintings, drawings, photographs and sculptures.

There is also copyright in musical works, covering scores and arrangements, and in sound recordings of musical, literary or dramatic works. Films are covered, too, and broadcasts whether by radio, television or cable.

Copyrights exist for a term that varies for different kinds of work.

Literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works' copyrights exist for 50 years after the death of the maker. This is less than the 70 year terms in Europe and the United States.

As copyright goes to the artist's heirs, this can present serious challenges for people seeking permission to copy things they suspect are still in copyright.

As there is no general directory or database listing current owners of copyrights, it is up to a would be copier or publisher to try to find out who now owns the copyright in question.

There are exemptions that make things easier for some forms of copying.

If you are reviewing, you can make partial quotes of a text and can borrow more substantially for research or private study. Copying is also allowed for some educational purposes, backing up computer programs and some other things.

The 1994 Act was amended in 2008 to take account of new technologies, digital media and internet communications. Although this was influenced by media corporations and the Artists Alliance, among others, it was opposed by some artists and also librarians, again among others. Creative Freedom New Zealand felt that section 92a assumed ''guilt upon accusation''.

This section was defended by Prime Minister John Key, who said it was necessary if the country was to have a free trade agreement with the US.

Nevertheless the section was repealed in 2010 and replaced with a three notice system for infringing copyright by file sharing. This came into effect in September 2011. Complaints were made under it in 2013 by the Recording Industry Association on behalf of copyright owners.

None were upheld because it was considered none of the internet account holders who were the subjects of the complaints was infringing on a commercial scale. (They had been uploading music.)

The Government has been negotiating the Trans Pacific Partnership with the United States and 10 other countries. People have been concerned about the implications of this for intellectual property, including copyrights, but it seems unlikely these would be weakened.

The Economist in its July 25 31 edition enthused about the prospective agreement, as you might expect from its longstanding advocacy of free trade, while acknowledging it was difficult to measure likely benefits because the negotiations are shrouded in secrecy.

Some details that seem concerning have emerged about medicines. When a draft is agreed it will have to be presented to Parliament, when it will be possible to see what it says about copyright and, if necessary, object.

The artist, or author or composer of an original work, is not always the owner of its copyright. If it has been commissioned, the copyright belongs to the commissioner.

I imagine the copyright of many of Dunedin's new murals will belong to the group that commissioned them, unless it has chosen to devolve it on the artist.

How it prevents copyright infringement by numerous people taking photos of the streetscape I haven't the slightest idea. Perhaps it intends to benignly ignore such infringements.

In writing this column I've leaned heavily on a Wikipedia article, but that doesn't infringe its copyright because Wikipedia has effectively made the material copyright free. Copyright is good for artists but freedom to copy benefits others.

Peter Entwisle is a Dunedin curator, historian and writer.

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