Caelie_Frampton (CC-BY-NC-SA)

Caelie_Frampton (CC-BY-NC-SA)

Copyright restricts all kinds of important, everyday uses of creative works—even worse, these strict rules last nearly two lifetimes for any given work. We are fighting to reform and push back against these restrictions in the secret Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), especially those that undermine the public's ability to use, research, remix, or otherwise modify digital content and devices. And one of the most critical issues in this trade deal is whether it strongly upholds and protects exceptions and limitations to copyright. As the Executive Director of Australian Digital Alliance, Jessica Coates, aptly puts it, "They are what allow teachers to use resources in the classroom, technology companies to create new services, and individuals to interact with copyright material without risking criminal liability."

That's why EFA is one of 15 groups telling TPP negotiators about the importance of providing for strong public safeguards to use copyrighted works. This letter echoes a call from earlier this year when hundreds of tech companies called on the U.S. Congress to oppose the TPP and the Fast Track bill for doing nothing to promote fair use or other exceptions and limitations to copyright.

In the letter, we urge officials to be receptive to new changes that would mandate their countries to pass rules that bring more balance and flexibility to their copyright regimes. The letter makes clear that we remained very concerned about other provisions in the TPP, including its retroactive copyright term extension, its ban on DRM circumvention, and trade secret rules that could criminalize investigative journalism and whistleblowers who report on corporate wrongdoing. We are not saying that this change to the exceptions and limitations framework would remedy the heavy-handed copyright restrictions, but that it would at least alleviate some of the negative consequences of those rules.

We're writing this letter now because the issue of users' rights emerged again during the last round of negotiations, and we want to make sure that the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) has our back. But recent signs have not been good—despite its earlier promises that the TPP would bring "greater balance" to copyright more than any other recent trade agreement, the most recent leak of the Intellectual Property chapter belies their claims. The USTR has still failed to live up to its word that it would enshrine meaningful public rights to use copyrighted content in this agreement.

This letter has been sent to trade negotiations today as they prepare to re-convene in Atlanta, Georgia to finalise the terms of the TPP. According to reports on the current status of negotiations, officials are still quarreling over major sticking points involving auto trade and tariffs on commodities like rice and dairy. The negotiations next week however, are set up as possibly being the last round of talks where the TPP could be concluded. But of course we have heard this many times before so it's hard to know if this is simply more bluffing.

Either way, we hope that the USTR follows through with its intention of building stronger safeguards for users in this otherwise unbalanced, copyright-maximalist deal. The inclusion of this fix would not transform us into supporters of the TPP, but in the worst case that it is passed and ratified by the TPP countries, it would at least contain better protections for users.

Open Coalition Letter on TPP Exceptions and Limitations (September 21, 2015) [PDF]

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