Gimme Royalties

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WASHINGTON, D. C.: The United States filed a complaint with the newly-formed World Trade Organization on Friday, claiming that Japan has cost American entertainment firms hundreds of millions of dollars by abandoning an obligation to respect American copyrights. Adam Zagorin of TIME's Washington bureau reports: "This is a test not only of this particular case, but a test of how the WTO handles complaints." He adds that though this case is not as important as the recently-settled dispute with Japan over auto parts, the U.S. would only bring a complaint this early in the organization's existence if it felt it had a particularly strong claim. "This is just one of a number of differences we have with the Japanese," Zagorin says. Japanese copyright law doesn't require payment of royalties for works more than 25 years old, but the United States maintains that Japan is subject to a World Trade Organization agreement guaranteeing international enforcement of copyright for 50 years. As a result, Japanese citizens can buy American '50s and '60s music and movies for a song. Legal bootlegs of an Elvis Presly CD which should sell for over $30 may have a street value of just five dollars. Several European nations have threatened to lodge their own complaints over Japan's practices in the coming weeks.