The Intellectual Property Strategic Program of 2007 (PDF version here) has as one of its many goals, to reach a conclusion on whether to extend the term of copyright protection from 50 years to 70 years by the end of the fiscal year (March 31).

Yet the working group convened under the Ministry of Education, Culture, Science, and Technology is split in whether to recommend the extension or not, according to Daily Yomiuri article by Yoshikazu Suzuki.

It is no wonder that members are split, with the panel being made up of rights holding organisations such as JASRAC and the Japan Writers Association, who of course have extending the term of protection, and lawyers and economists who feel an extension would be unfair, and would not provide any further incentive for creators to generate new copyrighted works.

The following argument makes sense if we consider that people are generally ‘rational actors’. If a novelist writes a work at 30 years of age, the current term will protect her work until she is 80 years old. For artists and creatives older than 20, the chance of the copyright expiring in their living years decreases considerably with every year that passes.

Unless, of course, copyrights are left in estate to relatives, friends, or trust funds. But clearly, those who stand to benefit most from an extension of the copyright term are the rights managing organisations themselves. As we get closer to 2010, the volume of copyrighted works that continue to expire undoubtedly grows. (I have no stats on this, but have the growth in music and television programs – given that broadcasting in Japan started in 1953 – in mind)

While proponents point to the added ‘incentive’ (of posthumous revenue?), there are also economic and creative barriers that an extension potentially raises. As Suzuki writes:

An extension would [not be without drawbacks for] copyright holders. During the Oct. 12 symposium, playwright Minoru Betsuyaku and nonfiction writer Shinichi Sano said the extension would hinder writers seeking to produce new works based on the work of past authors. It also is questionable what kinds of advantages and disadvantages would accrue to people who want to enjoy copyrighted works.

It does appear a tough one, given that the IP Strategic Headquarters wants to reconcile the rights of copyright holders with the ‘multi-use’ and reuse of content by artists and users. We know which way JASRAC are always going to vote.