What Will The Trans-Pacific Partnership Do To Anime?

by Justin Sevakis,

Usakun asks:

I haven't been following news about the impending Trans-Pacific Partnership very closely, but most of what I am hearing now is increasingly negative, at least from fans living in Japan and how they define the rights and privileges they have enjoyed up until this point. Do you have any opinions or observations on this issue?

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, for those who don't pay attention to the news, is a trade agreement between the United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia, Japan, Peru, Vietnam, New Zealand, Singapore, Chile, Malaysia and Brunei, that finally just came to an agreement after seven years spent negotiating. It is a huge, huge, huge agreement, covering everything from textile production to e-commerce. Although the terms of the agreement have been decided, it's a hot-button political issue right now because it has not been ratified into law, and the United States Congress and the political press have been picking it apart in the only way they know: ludicrous oversimplification and melodrama.

But beyond the dopey politics, several groups have raised some significant concerns about the TPP, specifically its provisions on intellectual property (including copyright laws). Most of these concerns are beyond the scope of this column, but if you're interested, Electronic Frontier Foundation has a good breakdown here.

Relevant to anime and its fandom is the fact that all of the signatory countries will need to unify their copyright laws to become more like the United States, and commit to a minimum level of unilateral enforcement. This means, essentially, that the FBI would be able to go after violations of Japanese copyrights, and vice versa, without cooperation or even asking if they should.

That is a little scary, but the TPP only grants these abilities for violations that are "commercial" in scale, and "situations that do not have a major impact on the original work's profits" are exempted. For example, an AMV or fan art would not qualify for enforcement. Conversely, large-scale illegal streaming or manga scanlation sites WOULD be targets. That much seems clear.

But what about the sort of kinda-sorta-bootleg merchandise being sold at Artist's Alley? Does that count as "commercial"? And what about doujinshi, which are technically illegal but more or less being made with the tacit approval of copyright owners? That's where things get a little blurry, because even though doujinshi is not manufactured on a large scale, it's still sold.

Japanese lawmakers are currently wrestling with these very questions. It's clear that Japanese copyright law will have to change. The length of coverage will increase from 50 to 70 years after the author's death, and violation of copyright will have to change into a law that can be prosecuted just for breaking it. (Presently, Japanese law requires the copyright owner to file charges against you in order for anything to happen.)

This is all a work in progress, and there are so many moving parts to this agreement that, to be honest, I don't feel like I've gotten my head around it firmly. Needless to say I, and probably almost nobody talking about the TPP, has read the damn thing. I don't have time for that, and you probably don't either. Also, not being a lawyer with a background in international trade, in all likelihood reading it wouldn't be all that enlightening.

That said, I tend to side with the EFF on most things, and there is a danger of over-enforcement of any new provision of copyright law. I would personally love to see some of these pirate streaming websites get shut down, but is that worth taking down innocent fan works? Probably not.

The good news is, Japan's government and industry both seem quite cognizant of these dangers and has stated that they're trying to iron out the kinks in a way that will keep fan-works safe. Perhaps they could even institute something similar to American "fair use"! That would be interesting.

All this is to say that I don't have an opinion on a law that is, at best, still a moving target. Most of the agreement is well out of my understanding and purview. The copyright thing is a little worrisome and should be kept an eye on. From an anime fan perspective, it seems like it won't affect fandom TOO much, but a lot of things still need to be clarified. The Japanese publishing industry has endorsed the deal overall, but has brought up these very points for clarification. They have absolutely zero desire to shut down Comiket, which has become a very lucrative promotional event for their products.

But if the deal gets killed, it almost certainly won't be because of this. Outside of our circle, people care far more about whether it'll create or destroy jobs, or whether it protects the environment enough.

Got questions for me? Send them in! The e-mail address, as always, is answerman (at!)

Justin Sevakis is the founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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