A quick look at the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership or Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

13 May

The Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership or Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a secretive, multi-nation trade agreement that threatens to extend restrictive intellectual property laws across the globe. The nine nations currently negotiating the TPP are the U.S., Australia, Peru, Malaysia, Vietnam, New Zealand, Chile, Singapore, and Brunei Darussalam. Like ACTA, the TPP is being negotiated in secret, and on a fast timetable. We don’t know what’s in the TPP IP chapter, or even what the U.S. trade representative is pushing for in this agreement. There is mounting criticism of the U.S. role in pushing the negotiations forward in secrecy, despite the public’s overwhelming disagreement with TPP goals.

“The TPP has been branded as a trade ‘negotiation’ by its corporate proponents, but in reality it’s a place for big business to get its way behind closed doors,” said Pete Rokicki of Occupy Dallas. “This anti-democratic maneuver can be stopped if the public gets active—just look at the movement that killed the ill-advised SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) law a few months ago. That’s why Obama’s trade officials lock the public, the press and even members of Congress from the trade negotiation process.”

One of the major criticisms is the lack of transparency. Trade agreements are often negotiated in secret, but it is the inclusion of a chapter on copyright and other IP measures that has people focusing on the TPP, much in the same way as people protested the discarded IP legislation SOPA/PIPA, other trade agreements like ACTA, and the provisions on IP legislation that were subsequently removed from CISPA.

There has been criticism of some provisions relating to the enforcement of patents and copyrights alleged to be present in leaked copies of the US proposal for the agreement. Overall, the USTR proposal for the TPP intellectual property chapter would:

  • Include a number of features that would lock-in as a global norm many controversial features of U.S. law, such as endless copyright terms.
  • Create new global norms that are contrary to US legal traditions, such as those proposed to damages for infringement, the enforcement of patents against surgeons and other medical professional, rules concerning patents on biologic medicines etc.
  • Undermine many proposed reforms of the patent and copyright system, such as, for example, proposed legislation to increase access to orphaned copyrighted works by limiting damages for infringement, or statutory exclusions of “non-industrial” patents such as those issued for business methods.
  • Would eliminate any possibility of parallel trade in copyrighted books, journals, sheet music, sound recordings, computer programs, and audio and visual works.
  • Requires criminal enforcement for technological measures beyond WIPO Internet Treaties, even when there is not copyright infringement, impose a legal regime of ISP liability beyond the DMCA standards.
  • Requires legal incentives for service providers to cooperate with copyright owners in deterring the unauthorized storage and transmission of copyrighted materials.
  • Requires identifying internet users for any ISP, going beyond U.S. case law, includes the text of the controversial US/KOREA side letter on shutting down web sites.
  • Requires adopting compensation for infringement without actual damages.
  • For copyright and trademark, criminal punishment would apply even to non-for-profit infringement.

The proposals have been accused of being excessively restrictive, providing intellectual property restraints beyond those in the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and ACTA.

The US trade representative is clamping down on public participation to minimize the spread of information which challenges their hard-line IP maximalist agenda that seeks to empower corporations at the expense of public health and knowledge. In addition to increasing reliance on intersessionals, like this week’s Santiago meeting, where stakeholders are not given a forum to participate, USTR has now effectively reduced stakeholder participation in the official negotiating rounds by eliminating their opportunity to give presentations to negotiators in an official forum.

SOPA’s defeat proved that the netroots can beat IP maximalism and rulemakings from Washington designed to curb Internet freedom, while the populist response to ACTA has shown that policy laundering attempts by industry and their allies in government will face serious resistance. Ambitious, secret economic agreements have been defeated before through public awareness and organizing.

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