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The blogosphere is abuzz with speculation that the Transpacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) is much worse than SOPA. Is this true? Since the text is currently top secret, there is no way to tell. Of course, that’s part of the problem. But, after tracking international intellectual property (IP) issues here a PK for a number of years, I can try to make an educated guess about what may be in TPP’s IP chapter and how it may affect you.
First some background for those unfamiliar with the TPP. The TPP is a trade agreement being negotiated by the 9 countries: the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Peru, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore. Canada and Mexico are interested in joining. As you can see, the US is the most powerful negotiator in this mix and has a great deal of power to dictate the outcome of the agreement. The agreement covers a vast range of subject matter, including tariffs on various kinds of goods, labor standards, telecommunications, and intellectual property.
Let’s focus on the IP chapter. Here is an educated guess about what may be in it and how these provisions might affect you and people living in other TPP countries.
- Protecting incidental copies. The TPP would provide copyright owners power over “buffer copies.” These are the small copies that computers need to make in the process moving data around. With buffer copy protection the number of transactions for which you would need a license from the copyright owner would increase a great deal. One impact of this could be that the music you stream from services such as Pandora could get much more expensive when rights holders demand higher license fees to compensate them for the “additional” copies.
- Locking out the Deaf and Blind. The TPP would prevent the blind from reading DRM protected ebooks and the deaf from inserting closed captioning onto DRM protected DVDs. In the US, the Copyright Office has made rules in the past that allows the blind to break this DRM. But the continuation of these rules is not a guarantee. And the other TPP countries could fail to make similar rules.
- Criminalizing small scale copyright infringement. Under the TPP, downloading music could be considered a crime. Your computer could be seized as a device that aids this offense and your kid could be sent to jail for downloading. Some of these rules are part of US law. The TPP makes them worse and also imposes similar rules on other countries that don’t have them.
- Kicking people off the internet. The TPP would encourage your ISP and the content industry to agree to institute measures such as three strikes—which kicks you off your internet connection after three accusations of copyright infringement—and deep-packet-inspection—which is akin to the USPS opening your mail. While we can not be sure exactly what is in the TPP, these examples are derived from a copy of the TPP’s IP chapter that leaked in February last year, the provisions that were reported to be part of earlier drafts of ACTA, and previous free trade agreements that the US has signed.
Of course, the provisions of TPP could be much worse. We will only know if the text of the agreement is actually released to the public. That is something that the USTR has refused to do (more on lack of transparency in a later post).
So, we remain in the dark, unable to effectively advocate for your rights. Meanwhile, many content industry representatives have access to the text and can work towards getting more draconian provisions into the agreement. If this process seems outrageous to you, the good folks at the EFF have put together a way for you to contact your Member of Congress demanding more transparency. Write to your Member of Congress now.