A Mickey Mouse Reason to Support the TPP

Steamboat Willie

If it weren’t for retroactive copyright extension, then 1928’s “Steamboat Willie”–and therefore Mickey Mouse–would unquestionably be in the public domain.

David Leonhardt says the future of the free world depends on longer copyrights for Mickey Mouse.

That’s not exactly what he said, but pretty damn close. Since you get thrown out of elite circles if you question the merits of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the members are doubling down. They are insisting that terrible things will happen now that the TPP is dead.

Leonhardt picked up the mantle in his New York Times column (1/31/17),  telling readers that to counteract China, the countries of the region supported the TPP. He says they were

willing to adopt American-style rules on intellectual property, pollution and labor unions, even though those rules created some political tensions in those countries.

Among the rules on intellectual property was the retroactive extension of copyrights, requiring that countries protect works created in the past for at least 75 years. The retroactive extension of copyrights makes virtually no sense. Copyright monopolies are supposed to provide an incentive to produce creative work. While longer copyrights can in principle provide more incentive going forward, they can’t provide incentive for past behavior.

Retroactive copyright extension has been a practice in the United States in large part to keep Mickey Mouse under copyright protection. The length of copyright has twice been extended retroactively in the United States as a result of Disney’s ability to lobby Congress.

This sort of protectionism is very costly. The Obama administration, at the request of the entertainment, software and pharmaceutical industries, insisted on stronger and longer patent- and copyright-related protections in the TPP. Unfortunately, the projections of the economic impact of the TPP do not take account of the costs of these protections.

Anyhow, it is worth noting these handouts to politically powerful corporations. If the future of the free world depends on the TPP, as Leonhardt argues here, then maybe it shouldn’t have included measures that will hugely raise the cost of everything from prescription drugs to software to Mickey Mouse memorabilia.


Economist Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. A version of this post originally appeared on CEPR’s blog Beat the Press (1/31/17).

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This piece was reprinted by RINF Alternative News with permission from FAIR.