Jamaicans pay for reggae the rest of the world gets it free
Jamaica now has the third-longest copyright term in the world, and the term extension has been imposed retrospectively, all the way back to works created in 1962, the year ska burst on the public scene.
The new term only binds on Jamaicans, meaning that the currently public domain Jamaican works that are going back into copyright will be free for foreigners long before they’re free for Jamaicans again, a situation that will apply to all Jamaican works produced from 1962 onward.
Jamaica has also committed to enforcing copyright on foreign works that had entered the public domain in Jamaica, meaning that Jamaicans will have to pay for imports they currently get for free.
Worse than this, the extension was made retroactive to January 1962. Besides being the year when Jamaica attained independence, 1962 also just so happens to have been the year when Jamaican ska music (a popular genre in its own right, but also a precursor of the even more popular reggae) burst onto the international music scene. The parallels with the extension of the U.S. copyright term in the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act” are quite eerie. But, worse than what happened into the U.S., the retrospective effect of the law means that works that have already passed into the public domain in Jamaica are now to be wrenched back out again. Jamaica will now be one of the last countries in the entire world to enjoy free access to works that are already in the public domain in the United States—such as Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid, from 1921.
If Jamaica hoped that this measure would bring in additional royalties for its musicians from overseas markets, then the tactic that it chose to pursue was doomed to failure from the outset. Foreign users of Jamaican copyrights are not bound by the extended copyright term; only Jamaicans are; but conversely, Jamaicans are now obliged to honor foreign copyrights for the full extended term.1 As opposition spokesperson on culture Olivia Grange put it during debate on the new law, “what will happen is that we will, in fact, be paying out to foreign copyright holders in foreign exchange for the continued use of foreign works in Jamaica, while our own rights holders will only benefit up to the 50, 70 or 80 years that exist in other countries”. So all that this measure has accomplished is that citizens of Jamaica, a developing country, will be paying more money into Hollywood’s coffers, while Jamaica’s own rich cultural heritage draws in not a penny more in return. Yay?
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