Big Government

4 Terrible Things About the Intellectual Property Section of the Leaked Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement


Credit: espenmoe-cc-by

Yesterday, Wikileaks published a draft of the intellectual property chapter of the secretive and controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP).

This document is the first full chapter to be leaked. The TPP is billed as a free-trade agreement that will prepare the US and 11 other Pacific-rim nations. This leak gives clearer insight about how far-reaching and potentially damaging this agreement, which the Obama Administration hopes to hammer out by the of the year, could be. Here are some of the worst features discovered in the Intellectual Property chapter.

1. Loose Language Means Worse Laws: Earlier this week, Reason contacted Simon Lester, a trade policy analyst with Cato, regarding the TPP. Having read prior leaks, he cautioned that "the problem is, a lot of [TPP] rules are very vague."

The newly released document shows the same trend. Addressing how this group of nations will deal with everything from copyrights, to domain names, to Internet service provider liability, and even border enforcement, the language throughout this 95-page chapter is dangerously broad. Governments have enough trouble reconciling technology and the law in a productive way, and allowing a centralized body of authority to make sweeping, international decisions is a poor foundation to remedy that issue.

2. You Don't Really Own Your Phone…Or Any Electronic Device: Although unlocking your phone has been illegal for nearly two decades in the US, legislators have been working this year to do away with the outdated, innovation-stifling Digital Millenium Copyright Act. The TPP would crush these efforts and extend the same bad legislation abroad.

The draft states that the 12 nations would "provide adequate legal protection and effective legal remedies against the circumvention of effective technological measures." This means that despite having paid for an iPhone or Xbox One, you would not legally be allowed to tinker with the device, because the TPP would make it illegal to tamper with manufacturers' digital locks that prevent you from from changing carriers or share copies of your video games.

3. Copyrights and Cronyist Collusion: It's no secret that CEOs from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), International Trademark Association (INTA), and many others voiced their support for the TPP in an open letter to Obama. Luckily for these large copyright holders, the agreement would extend copyright terms up to 100 years after an author's death and as much as 120 years for unpublished corporate works.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) explains that "such bloated term lengths benefit only a vanishingly small portion of available works, and impoverish the public domain of our collective history," and points out that "the U.S. will see no new published works enter the public domain until 2019."

Compounding this problem, the TPP intends to make service providers liable for copyright-infringing material that they host. This would essentially force Comcast, Time Warner Cable, others to become private Internet police not just for the U.S. government, but for all 12 countries in the agreement.

4. The U.S. Government is the Leading the Charge: The draft lets readers see where nations disagreed about terms of the agreement. Thus, we know that the US pushed for 120-year copyrights, Chile opposed the idea, and Australia and others proposed 70-year terms. This is consistent throughout. More than any other, it is the US government that pushed in favor of stricter rules and regulations. Peter Peter Maybarduk, a director at the advocacy group Public Citizen, said it's "the Obama administration's shameful bullying" that dominates the TPP negotiations. The EFF lauds the "numerous heroic proposals for fixes, most notably from Canada and Chile" to strike down the US's "dangerous provisions."