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May 16, 2012

The new copyright agreement you don’t know about


Image credit: Flickr user TX Corporate Power Partnership

A United States trade agreement is being negotiated in secret that includes a set of copyright rules thought to be even more stringent than the defeated and much maligned bills SOPA and ACTA.

The reason I say “thought to be” is because no one knows for sure what’s on the table, except those international government representatives in the room.  No matter what your opinion of these issues, the fact that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is being negotiated behind closed doors, as Cory Doctorow reports on Boing Boing, must leave a bad taste.  Indeed, Doctorow details how the organizers of TPP ordered a hotel to cancel the reservation when protestors wanted to hold a parallel conference.

Maira Sutton writes on the Electronics Frontier Foundation‘s DeepLinks blog that,

“The TPP is a secretive plurilateral agreement that includes provisions dealing with intellectual property, including online copyright enforcement, anti-circumvention measures, and Internet intermediary liability. Due to the secrecy of the negotiations, we do not know what is in the current version of the TPP’s IP chapter; the general public has only seen a leaked February 2011 version of the U.S. IP chapter proposal. Based on the one-sided nature of the groups directly involved, and the content of what has already leaked, we should all be concerned about the prospect of the TPP including provisions that will harm online expression, privacy and innovation on the Internet.”

You can read a version of the treaty leaked in 2011 and most likely out of date, here.  According to Public Knowledge staff attorney Rashmi Rangnath the 2011 version contains provisions that “could easily send an individual who downloaded a few songs to jail.”

Elizabeth Wasserman at Politico calls the TPP “the mother of all free-trade agreements”.  According to Wasserman, although the IP component of the Pact is only one part,

“Intellectual property proponents are looking to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement talks opening this week to help thwart growing trade in counterfeit goods and content overseas — and to reclaim the messaging from protesters framing IP protection as a threat to Internet freedom.”

 TPP protestors scored some humorous wins, however, installing anti-TPP toilet paper in the hotel, as you can see above.  Also, the performance art protestors, the Yes Men, made a fool of U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, as Paul Bedard recounts in The Examiner.

“After Kirk finished speaking, an Occupy demonstrator and actor dressed in a suit went to the microphone to announce that Kirk’s team would be receiving the “2012 Corporate Power Tool Award.” He said, “The TPP agreement is shaping up to be a fantastic way for us to maximize profits regardless of what the public of this nation–or any nation–thinks is right.”

Minutes later, according to video posted on the web, Kirk appeared unaware he was being spoofed and moved to accept the award before security moved in to kick the 20 protesters out.”

Protestors are winning this PR war, mainly due to the perverse way this treaty is being negotiated.  Surely a public debate is the best way to foster a healthy content industry, while maintaining an open internet.


Ariel Bogle is a former publicist at Melville House.