A diverse group of social media companies, entrepreneurs, investors, and Internet user groups have joined to speak out about copyright dangers and other threats to intellectual freedom being included in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement.
The TPP is an international agreement, the details of which are still being finalised, which is supposed to reduce trade barriers between the participating nations: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Peru, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Singapore, Vietnam, and the US.
One of the key components of the agreement is the synchronisation of copyright laws between the TPP countries, There are fears that the agreement will mean more restrictive copyright arrangements that will favour large copyright holders like publishing houses and film studios, to the detriment of individuals and those wishing a more liberal interpretation of intellectual property, particularly in the digital world.
The fears have been enhanced by the secretive nature if the TPP discussions, which are open to large corporations, which are free to lobby for their interests, but barred to individuals and special interest group.
“The changes to copyright proposed by the TPP would restrict citizens’ and businesses’ ability to innovate, both on and offline,” says the Jon Lawrence, executive officer of Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA), who has been lobbying against the TPP since its ramifications first became clear more than a year ago.
“Australia’s experience with implementing these types of provisions has not been good. The signing of the KAFTA (Korean-Australian Free Trade Agreement) was accompanied by the news that we would have to legislate to overturn the High Court Decision in the iiNet case, effectively offshoring our domestic IP policy.
“Meanwhile we still have not properly implemented the protections for organisations excluded from the safe harbour scheme allowed under the AUSFTA (Australia US Free Trade Agreement), the subject of a 2011 review by the Attorney-General’s Department, which has yet to be released.”
Lawrence says the TPP is one of the most far-reaching international free trade agreements in history. “We know from leaked TPP draft texts that participating nations would be bound to much stricter and more extreme copyright laws than now exist under current national laws.
“These new rules would criminalise much online activity, invade citizens’ privacy, and significantly impact our ability to share and collaborate online. US negotiators are pushing hard to force smaller nations into accepting a censored Internet.”
The latest round of TPP negotiations are taking place this week behind closed doors at the Delta Hotel in the Canadian capital of Ottawa. Opponents of the TPP have sent a letter raising concerns about how the agreement could force online service providers to act as Internet cops, raising costs and potentially putting smaller providers out of business (an idea already mooted by Australia’s Attorney-General George Brandis).
A large international coalition representing over a hundred web companies and Internet user groups have begun a major campaign to explain how the TPP would force ISPs and web providers to police the Internet.
International names such as Wikimedia, reddit, O’Reilly Media, and BoingBoing have been joined by Australian voices iiNet, EFA, the Australian Privacy Foundation (APF) and the Australian Digital Alliance (ADA).
The group has set out their concerns in a joint letter which focuses on the tough new burdens the TPP would impose on telecom and web service providers. The letter highlights how the TPP would “force service providers throughout the region to monitor and police their users' actions on the Internet, pass on automated takedown notices, block websites and disconnect Internet users."
The letter was put together by the Fair Deal network of civil society groups and businesses working to reform the copyright provisions in the Intellectual Property chapter of the TPP. It will be handed to negotiators at a face-to-face meeting in Ottawa today.
“Locking these provisions into a 12 party ‘free trade’ agreement is binding us to bad policy and removing our ability to deal with future challenges,” says Trish Hepworth, Executive Officer of the Australian Digital Alliance.
“The Internet is ever-changing, ever evolving. We need the flexibility to respond effectively to changes in technology and business practices. These prescriptive and overly-bureaucratic provisions will lock us into a rigid system that is already showing signs of irrelevance.”
Read on to learn about other groups' opposition to the TPP:
Steve Anderson, executive director of Canadian Internet freedom group OpenMedia agrees: “We know from leaked documents that the TPP will have an enormously harmful impact on our everyday lives,” he said. “Under the TPP whole families could be kicked offline, Internet costs will rise, and online free expression will be seriously undermined.
“It’s profoundly undemocratic for TPP leaders to lock out citizens, while allowing secretive industry lobbyists to write rules that will harm Internet users and potentially put many telecom and web service providers out of business. It’s high time for TPP leaders to open up this whole process and enable citizens to finally have a say.”
Tim Bray, a Canadian software developer and co-inventor of XML, which is foundational to the Internet, said: “I’m generally pro-free-trade, but I’m horrified that this agreement might be used, in a secretive back-door way, to twist Canada’s copyright system, which generally works well, in ways that could criminalise common-sense and socially-valuable uses of our shared intellectual heritage.”
Erik Martin, General Manager of social news site reddit, said: “reddit is a platform for creating communities and sharing information. We have immense concerns about any proposals that would place the burden of preemptively policing users and blocking information onto communication platforms such as reddit directly. This is a real threat to all communication platforms that help to make our open Internet ecosystem so rich and diverse."
Jeremy Malcolm, from US group the Electronic Frontier Foundation said: “There is no reason to think that the copyright rules being pushed in this agreement are the best rules for all twelve countries. Indeed, they may not be the best rules for any of those countries. They are simply the rules that the highly-paid lobbyists from big content industries would like to see locked in as immutable global standards. We mustn’t fall into that trap.”
The joint letter is signed by over 100 leading Internet entrepreneurs, business leaders and user groups from all around the world. Over 140,000 people have now signed a petition at http://OpenMedia.org/censorship, which demands that TPP decision-makers reject copyright proposals that would restrict the open Internet, access to knowledge, economic opportunity, and our fundamental rights.
“Tens of thousands are taking part in a crowdsourcing initiative organised by OpenMedia to create a positive vision for sharing and collaborating online,” said Lawrence. “The initiative aims to create an Internet-fuelled positive alternative that decision makers can’t ignore.