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Life plus 50: striking a balance between the term of copyright protection and Jamaica's public domain

Natalie GS Corthésy

Keywords: Jamaica; copyright term; public domain; life plus 50

The Jamaica Copyright Act of 1993 provides that the term of copyright protection for authors' rights shall be the duration of the life of the author plus 50 years after his death. It may be argued that this monopoly granted to authors plays a critical role in encouraging creative output and bolstering the public domain with copyright material that the public may exploit on the expiration of copyright protection. The polemic is whether the ceiling on copyright protection of authors' rights should be construed negatively as a fetter on authors' rights, or positively as a fair compromise that promotes access and use of the public domain to create new wealth. This paper argues that:

  • the preservation of the public domain is paramount to wealth creation;
  • the scope of the definition of public domain should be widened and distinguished from the parameters of traditional knowledge and folklore;
  • there are enforcement challenges posed by the lack of harmonization of the copyright term of authors' rights; and
  • there are flexibilities in international instruments to which Jamaica is a signatory that may be used to fashion an appropriate national response against the backdrop of regional and international trends that have seen extensions of the term to 70 years and in some instances to as much as 100 years.

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