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Internet Freedom Activists Protest Secret Trade Agreement Being Negotiated This Week
The U.S. content industry will try anything to preserve its profit margin and power over the creative content market at the expense of the Internet. They will use any tactic that circumvents democratic processes to make new rules for the Internet that favor their interests and not the interests of Internet users or the technical community that actually builds the Internet as we know it. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is yet another example of these tactics.
The TPP is a secretive plurilateral1 agreement that includes provisions dealing with intellectual property, including online copyright enforcement, anti-circumvention measures, and Internet intermediary liability. Due to the secrecy of the negotiations, we do not know what is in the current version of the TPP’s IP chapter; the general public has only seen a leaked February 2011 version of the U.S. IP chapter proposal [pdf]. Based on the one-sided nature of the groups directly involved, and the content of what has already leaked, we should all be concerned about the prospect of the TPP including provisions that will harm online expression, privacy and innovation on the Internet.
There has been a big push to raise global awareness of the TPP as the latest round of negotiations kicked off last week. Public Citizen released a parodic video criticizing the secrecy surrounding the process. On Saturday, more than 500 hundred people held a rally and marched to the Dallas Intercontinental Hotel where negotiations are underway behind closed doors. People gathered there to explain their concerns with the leaked TPP provision on Internet freedom, access to educational materials, access to affordable medicines and national sovereignty over public health policy, and impacts on labor and the environment.
TPP is being negotiated as a plurilateral agreement with a handful of like-minded countries outside of the checks and balances of such multilateral institutions.
Culture jamming activist group, The Yes Men, staged a fake award ceremony for U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk following his keynote address at Friday evening’s official reception. Dressed as business stakeholders, two actors awarded the USTR negotiators the “2012 Corporate Power Tool Award” for negotiating the TPP despite what the U.S. public thinks, and invited Ambassador Kirk to the stage to accept the award on behalf of the USTR. Activists scattered throughout the reception began to chant “TPP” and dance, before security staff escorted them all off the premises. Activists also installed “TPP TP” throughout the hotel’s bathrooms, which had alternative definitions of “TPP” printed on toilet paper.
The U.S. joined the TPP negotiations in 2010. Since then, many countries who have hosted negotiation rounds have organized a stakeholder forum alongside the formal negotiations, providing civil society with a useful opportunity to present their views of the agreement to the assembled TPP country negotiators in one session.
This time around though, there was no official stakeholder forum. Stakeholders who registered to attend were instead given the opportunity to register to stand at a table for several hours at a “Stakeholder Direct Engagement Event” on Saturday, whereby they could explain their concerns to negotiators and other stakeholders present. This was an optional event for the TPP negotiators on their half-day off from negotiations.
Since the official planned event was scarcely sufficient to make a significant impact, Public Knowledge and American University’s Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property co-hosted a side event for negotiators to learn about the threats of harsh copyright enforcement. The panel included EFF’s International IP Director, Gwen Hinze, who spoke about the unbalanced outcomes non-U.S. Internet users and innovators would face if the current version of the IP chapter were passed. While the event was well-attended, civil society were ultimately forced to bear all the costs to put on this event.
The content industry can and will continue to buy and lie to get their way to an agreement that protects their interests, and what they want more than anything is for us to remain passively ignorant.
Last week, 32 legal scholars sent a letter to the office of the USTR demanding transparency in the process. Including the release of the text and demand for real participation from civil society, they demanded the immediate release of “reports on US positions and proposals on intellectual property matters that are currently given only to Industry Trade Advisory Committee members under confidentiality agreements.” This is key because there is nothing that could justify the withholding of such reports that simply outline the U.S. position on intellectual property from the public. This is especially true given the fact that the U.S. government’s proposals could impede Congress from engaging in domestic legal reform of legislation regulating IP.
The USTR sent them a preliminary response the following day. Ambassador Kirk essentially blew them off, claiming that they have taken “extraordinary efforts” to have the whole negotiation process inclusive of civil society and the public. In the letter, he compared the level of transparency to Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) meetings, which indeed have always been top secret and therefore offer a laughably low bar of comparison.
International venues such as the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) already exist to address issues regarding the Internet and intellectual property. Like ACTA, TPP is being negotiated as a plurilateral agreement with a handful of like-minded countries outside of the checks and balances of such multilateral institutions. The U.S. Trade Representative's office recognizes that it could never obtain international agreement from the 182 member countries of WIPO to many of the proposals in TPP. Initiatives like the TPP allow the content industry to work within privileged channels of communication with the USTR to skirt open democratic processes that would likely prevent them from getting the IP regulations of their dreams.
The content industry can and will continue to buy and lie to get their way to an agreement that protects their interests, and what they want more than anything is for us to remain passively ignorant. If we do, they will continue to negotiate plurilateral agreements like TPP, ACTA, and the failed Free Trade Area of the Americas Agreement. These agreements will unquestionably chill online expression, prevent access to knowledge, and impede our freedom to innovate. The way to fight back is to make our voice heard: to demand an open transparent process that allows everyone, from experts to civil society members, to analyze, question, and probe any initiatives to regulate the Internet. The secrecy must be stopped once and for all.
Click here to take action. Tell Congress that you refuse any more backroom deals to regulate the Internet.