Over 65 tech companies, open Internet advocates and other organizations released two open letters to negotiators of the secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on Wednesday, expressing their concern that the trade deal's approval will force websites to censor content and block Internet users.
Spearheaded by the United States, the TPP––dubbed a "free trade" deal––includes twelve of the world's most economically-prosperous countries that cumulatively account for 40 percent of the global economy. With the possibility of wide-reaching effects on everything from Internet freedom to the prices of medicine in developing countries, critics have slammed it as a "corporate coup d'etat" and "NAFTA on steroids." Although the text of the deal has not been seen in its entirety by anyone outside of the negotiations, a draft version of the intellectual property rights section of the deal was released last November by WikiLeaks, and Internet rights groups have voiced their opposition ever since.
The two letters have been signed by a wide range of organizations, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Creative Commons and Reddit.
In a statement on the letters, the EFF declared that "with no official means of participating in the negotiations, the global community of users and innovators who will be affected by these proposed changes have been limited to expressing their concerns through open letters to their political representatives and to the officials negotiating the agreement."
According to the same statement, the so-called intermediary liability proposals contained in the draft released by WikiLeaks would require websites "to adopt a facsimile of the DMCA to regulate the take-down of material hosted online, upon the mere allegation of copyright infringement by a claimed rights-holder."
As the letter (pdf) on intermediary liability proposals warns:
We are worried about language that would force service providers throughout the region to monitor and police their users' actions on the internet, pass on automated takedown notices, block websites and disconnect Internet users. Irresponsible rightsholders can burden intermediaries with many thousands of automated takedown requests every day, using systems that operate with little or no human oversight. These systems rely on a "takedown first and ask questions later" approach to pages and content alleged to breach copyright.
The second letter (pdf), which concerns the extension of copyright terms, points out that "almost all contemporary economists are in agreement" that the 20-year copyright term extension the United States enacted in 1998 "makes no sense." The letter warns that "the further extension of copyright term" to all of the nations involved in the TPP, as detailed in the leaked chapter, would be "costly, unnecessary, and could be very hard to reverse." Copyright term extension, the letter argues, "results in a net welfare loss to society" that "effectively amounts to a transfer of wealth to a small number of multinational copyright–holding companies." That letter has so far been signed by 35 organizations.
TPP talks are currently being held in Ottawa, Canada, and are scheduled to continue through July 12. The talks were originally scheduled to occur in Vancouver, but the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs made a last minute move that was only announced in a "one-sentence blurb posted on June 24 on the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development's website," according to the social and environmental justice group the Council of Canadians. The group has said that this move constitutes “a new low in transparency for an already secretive trade deal.”