A group of 16 organizations of writers, artists, musicians, cartoonists and publishers has issued a statement asking the Cultural Affairs Agency to extend copyright protection from 50 years after their deaths to 70 years — just as in Europe and North America.

But opponents said a generous protection of copyrights will narrow people’s opportunities to use creative works.

“It is a problem of pride of creators,” one group member said Sept. 15 at a news conference to release the statement.

“Unless the protection is extended to 70 years as quickly as possible, criticism from overseas will mount,” said Hiromi Kawakami, a senior official at the Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers.

“The problem will become global when the copyright protection for music of John Lennon and Elvis Presley expires,” Kawakami said.

This spring, Yoko Ono, Lennon’s widow, and Presley’s daughter, Lisa Marie, sent letters to then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, asking him to extend copyright protection.

Novelist Masahiro Mita, vice president of the Japan Writers Association, said behind the request is an increase in life expectancy and the idea that families depend on the money they get from copyrights even after the artists have died.

“Especially in Japan, there are many ‘I’ novels, and authors have made subject matter of their family’s private business,” he said, indicating it is natural for relatives to receive royalties for a long time.

At the Daiso-Sangyo Co. 100 yen shops, copies of famous novels by Osamu Dazai (1909-1948) and Natsume Soseki (1867-1916) are lined up. The company has published 30 of their works, with notes and commentaries.

They are sold at 100 yen apiece because their copyrights have expired, but Mita said, “I suppose their families cannot endure that.”

However, the artists are not united in their demands.

“The extension of copyright protection and the spark of imagination have nothing to do each other. In addition, how many authors whose books are read for 50 years after their deaths are there?” novelist Mitsuharu Sagawa said.

The Aozora Bunko, or Blue Sky Library, created on the Internet in 1997 to make available for free literary works whose copyrights have expired, is aiming to put 6,000 works on the site.

The works are being entered by more than 600 volunteers.

Visually impaired people can also read the works with enlarged characters and voice software. And there are people who are publishing the literature cheap prices based on data from on the Internet.

Michio Tomita, a member of the group that created the library, said: “If the protection is extended to 70 years, we cannot make public new works for 20 years. Its social loss is immeasurable.”

With the popularization of the Internet, the idea is beginning to spread that copyright-free works should be put into the public domain as quickly as possible.

Hideaki Shirata, an assistant professor at Hosei University, opposes the extension of copyright protection.

“Culture should be a public property which can be enjoyed freely by all people. A cultural life is the one in which many people can get in touch with works and can easily take part in creation,” he said.

“The extension of copyright protection will narrow that down.”

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