As the 15th round of Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations draws to a close today, the Internet freedom community is taking stock of what was said, and perhaps more significantly, what wasn’t. Developments over the last few weeks have suggested that the controversial treaty may be losing steam as public opposition gains momentum – and there was plenty of opposition in evidence at the negotiations. The secretive agreement isn’t ploughing ahead unhindered, and this is largely due to the actions of citizens and the Internet freedom community.
There were plenty of underhand tactics used to shut the public out of the negotiations, as highlighted by our coalition partners the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) – negotiators cancelled the stakeholder tabling event without warning, and locked stakeholders out of the venue.
However stakeholders were still able to give presentations on one day during the negotiations, and several coalition members used this opportunity to bring your concerns to the attention of negotiators. Steve Anderson of OpenMedia spoke about the 121,000-strong StopTheTrap.net petition, and presented your comments from our tool at OpenTheTPP.net. Representatives of the EFF, InternetNZ, the Australian Digital Alliance, and ONG Derechos Digitales also presented.
Stakeholders also had the opportunity to ask tough questions of negotiators – Knowledge Ecology International’s detailed coverage of the question period illustrates negotiators’ attempts to dodge, talk around, or flat-out ignore these questions. This ducking and diving highlights the contentious nature of the copyright portion of the treaty, which is a good thing for new joiners like Canada and Mexico, as the lack of consensus indicates that there is still opportunity for these countries to table their own proposals.
TPP's Growth Stunted by Public Outcry
Canada and Mexico were the two latest additions to the TPP negotiations in October, but since then the agreement’s growth seems to be faltering as new countries seem reluctant to sign up. It was initially expected that Japan would be the next to join the negotiations, however as the EFF reports, business pushing for Japan’s entrance into the TPP are facing widespread opposition from citizens and civil society groups.
Opposition to the TPP is also growing in Thailand, where civil society groups have argued that the agreement will endanger the rights of the Thai people. The White House recently welcomed Thailand’s “interest in the Trans-Pacific Partnership”, but the Thai government is hesitant to take on the “high-standard” or highly restrictive measures required in this agreement. Other reports have suggested that Thailand is still unconvinced, and is weighing up the pros and cons.
This hesitance occurs as disagreement is beginning to show within the leadership of those countries who have already joined the negotiations. The U.S. has been the main driver of the TPP, but earlier this month the U.S. Republican Study Committee published (and following pressure from Big Media lobbyists, quickly retracted) a progressive report which argued against restrictive copyright measures and proposed reforms that directly contradict the rules being pushed by the TPP.
As Michael Geist notes, Canada had been heading in this more balanced direction with the long-fought-over Bill C-11. However the reaction to the progressive U.S. report suggests that “even modest reform recommendations face opposition from copyright lobby groups”. This Canadian law will therefore have to be completely rewritten if the TPP comes into force. This seems to reflect the discussion at the TPP negotiations, as when Steve Anderson asked for a commitment not to overwrite Canada's new copyright legislation, the Canadian representative refused.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that Big Media is pushing its agenda through the TPP. However this approach faces growing opposition from citizens and advocacy groups, and this was clear at the negotiations. Throughout the week small demonstrations were held outside the negotiations venue, and a large national rally was held on Saturday.
The public outcry that you’ve been part of is starting to show the cracks in the push to criminalize our Internet use. Negotiators hope to conclude the talks by October 2013, but this round of negotiations made clear that there are still many contentious issues to be debated before then, including copyright provisions. We need to keep speaking out to ensure these provisions are properly discussed, and not decided in a secretive, last-minute backroom deal.
Australia has already adopted very high, restrictive standards for Intellectual Property enforcement and protection following the ratification of the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA) in 2006, and the Australian government is understood to be unwilling to agree to provisions that would mean changes to domestic law - particularly in light of the current Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) Inquiry into Copyright and the Digital Economy. This year, the US proposed exceptions and limitations text for the TPP implementing the Berne Convention 'three step test', which may, dependent on its wording and interaction with other copyright treaties, reduce the scope of exceptions countries like Australia are able to introduce domestically. The US has also proposed text that goes beyond existing Australian law, introducing a 95 year copyright term duration for film and music recordings, entrenched criminal liability provisions and an exhaustive Technical Protection Measures (TPMs) regime.