Technology policy

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phone has been illegal for nearly two decades in the US, legislators have been working this year to do away with the outdated, innovation-stifling Digital Millenium Copyright Act.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."


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  1. There is seemingly no end to the list of things that Obama’s administration can fuck up.

    1. Every single thing that we find out about the administration doing, it’s worse than the last. And the really horrible thing about this particular case is that the administration’s incompetence, cronyism, and venality will only make this treaty worse. At least with Obamacare, its failure may mean its end. All this treaty will do is fuck everyone.

      1. And three more fucking years of this.

        1. And how many more of these, or Fast & Furious’s, or anything are going on right now that we just don’t even know about because there’s been no leak about it?

          Everything we’ve seen seems to indicate that Obama and his administration and all the agencies that have been emboldened by his presidency have gone into ultra-high gear adding regulations, slipping in things for cronies, tightening restrictions, and generally just doing all the shit that grows the government and stifles the private sector. I feel like I’ve never seen so much of this going on at once. And like you said: three more years of it.

          1. Obama specializes in picking major government functions and fucking them up in away that prevents any recovery.

            1. Well, the only positive take I can have on this is that he’s fucking so much shit up that maybe he causes some serious damage to the system as a whole, and we get some scaling back. But that’s not likely.

  2. Wait, what’s so wrong with Intellectual Property? [pops popcorn, sits back, and relaxes]

    1. 1) Trademarks — nothing
      2) Copyrights — Disney, et al buying infinite protection
      3) Patents — business process patents

      1. In fairness about Copy Rights: It’s to ‘secure to the author for a limited time.’

        It might be a bit silly, but I don’t have a problem securing it to the author’s corpse. Provided we install mail slots in coffins. But securing to the author’s rent-seeking crotch fruit is neither written down nor even implied.

        1. But securing to the author’s rent-seeking crotch fruit is neither written down nor even implied.

          If I were a sitting legislator, this exact quote would be in my draft bill on IP reform.

    2. If the RIAA wants to pursue music downloaders in civil court for violating some contract,that’s fine, take them to court. I just don’t want to be taxed so they can use the FBI as their own personal law firm.

    3. Nothing. All property is intellectual property. To oppose one is to oppose the other.

    4. trademarks – good as far as it prevents fraud. bad as far as it it incompatible with physical property rights.

      copyrights and patents – incompatible with physical property rights. If I own a piece of paper, I should be able to write whatever I want on it or bend it to whatever shape I desire in the privacy of my own bedroom.

      1. So, I should be able to stamp a competitor’s trademarked name on it? If not, then my right to do what I want with my shit is being infringed upon. Trademarks are no different than copyrights or patents in this respect.

        1. You argue from two perspectives about trademarks. In the first (positive) part, you’re totally utilitarian. In the second, you’re advocating for property rights. Why aren’t you doing the same for copyrights and patents? They have a utilitarian function as well.

          I’m not arguing for any utilitarian position here. Just pointing out the inconsistency.

          1. yes you should be able to stamp a competitor’s trademark wherever you want. If you use that to mislead a customer to think they are purchasing something made by your competitor, you are committing fraud. If they know it’s an imitation, that’s fine.

    5. Colbert steam plant goin’ down. Kiss your Quad Cities economy goodbye!

  3. Was listening to Democracy Now this morning and they held a debate between Bill Watson of Cato and Lori Wallach of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

    Basically Wallach was schooling Watson on everything Zenon has listed. Choice quote from Wallach:

    “What’s in that intellectual property chapter? What the Cato Institute would call rent seeking?governments being lobbied by special interests to set up special rules that give them monopolies to charge higher prices.”

    Ouch! Transcript here:…..cret_trade

    It seemed like Watson’s only point was that Congress “just wasn’t really good” on copyright, and we can’t trust them to get it right.

    Jeez, is this the best that Cato can come up with? And why are they trying to defend this pile of crap in the first place?

  4. I usually find the “punchable face” thing kind of stupid because it usually seems to have more to do with whether one agrees with the owner of the face more than the face itself. But damn, Julian Asange really wants to get punched in the face, doesn’t he?

    1. I agree with most of his professional actions, but the dude is a massive douche. VERY punchable face as well.

    2. In Sweden, that would be rape.

  5. More than any other, it is the US government that pushed in favor of stricter rules and regulations.

    Not to worry. There are still no death camps and America is still protected by the “it can’t happen here” gene.

  6. Sounds like some prettty serious business dude.

  7. Oh, is America leading the charge? Because it used to be Europe’s extremely draconian copyright regime that led US policy – Berne Convention was a sop to the internationals. And they still have moral rights, which we don’t have. That’s changed now?

  8. The draft states that the 12 nations would “provide adequate legal protection and effective legal remedies against the circumvention of effective technological measures.”

    Technology that needs ‘legal remedies’ to help it isn’t really that effective, is it?

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