Details of a top secret, multi-national trade agreement being negotiated and drafted by twelve countries, including the United States, have been published by WikiLeaks, and critics are coming forth to loudly proclaim that there will be major repercussions for much of the modern world if anything close to this version is approved.
Yesterday, WikiLeaks published an excerpt from a recent draft of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, a NAFTA-like agreement that is expected to encompass nations representing more than 40 percent of the world’s gross domestic product when it is finally approved: the United States, Japan, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Malaysia, Chile, Singapore, Peru, Vietnam, New Zealand and Brunei. The chapter on intellectual property published by WikiLeaks is perhaps the most controversial chapter of the TPP due to its wide-ranging effects on medicines, publishers, internet services, civil liberties and biological patents.
The United States and eleven other prospective member states have been negotiating the free trade agreement in extreme secrecy for years now, and there has been much rhetoric about how beneficial it will be to all involved:
“The TPP will boost our economies, lowering barriers to trade and investment, increasing exports and creating more jobs for our people, which is my number-one priority,” Obama said during a Nov. 2011 address. The deal, he said, “has the potential to be a model not only for the Asia Pacific but for future trade agreements” by regulating markets and creating opportunities for small and medium-sized businesses in the growing global marketplace.
Upon the publication of an excerpt obtained by WikiLeaks this week, however, opponents of the act are reading it quite differently and contend that provisions dealing with creation, invention and innovation could be highly detrimental to companies, countries, and cultures that are inextricably woven into the internet.
Although the TPP covers many issues, WikiLeaks has published a chapter from a draft dated August 30, 2013 that deals solely on Intellectual Property, or IP, rights. Previous reports about the rumored contents of the TPP with regards to IP law have raised concern among activists before, with the California-based Electronic Frontier Foundation going as far as to warn that earlier leaked draft text suggested the agreement “would have extensive negative ramifications for users’ freedom of speech, right to privacy and due process and hinder peoples’ abilities to innovate.” These activists contend that this is made all the more concerning because the treaty is being hammered out without any oversight or observation.
The IP chapter, wrote WikiLeaks, “provides the public with the fullest opportunity so far to familiarize themselves with the details and implications of the TPP,” an agreement that has largely avoided scrutiny in the mainstream media during its development.
Julian Assange, the infamous Australian founder of the whistleblower site, had particularly harsh words for the TPP in a statement published alongside the draft release:
“If instituted, the TPP’s IP regime would trample over individual rights and free expression, as well as ride roughshod over the intellectual and creative commons,” Assange said. “If you read, write, publish, think, listen, dance, sing or invent; if you farm or consume food; if you’re ill now or might one day be ill, the TPP has you in its crosshairs.”
What exactly are the critics upset about? Public Citizen argues that the TPP would limit people’s access to affordable medicine.
And International Business Times asserts that the agreement “reveals a profound disconnect with the reality of the modern computer,” particularly as to the way it addresses the concept of “temporary copies.” The relevant text of the TPP provides as follows:
“Each Party shall provide that authors, performers, and producers of phonograms have the right to authorize or prohibit all reproductions of their works, performances, and phonograms, in any manner or form, permanent or temporary (including temporary storage in electronic form).”
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“Since it’s technically necessary to download a temporary version of everything we see on our devices, does that mean—under the US proposed language—that anyone who ever views content on their device could potentially be found liable of infringement?” the EFF wrote. “For other countries signing on to the TPP, the answer would be most likely yes.”
It’s too early to tell how this will all end up but the alarm bells have been rung and TPP will be in for the sort of fight that the proponents of SOPA or ACTA faced. It is clear that this treaty touches upon profoundly important issues of personal freedom and privacy in the ever-evolving laboratory of the internet.