‘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.’
Julian Assange, editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks,
The US government is attempting to fast track one of the most important pieces of legislation in recent history, the specifics of which have been negotiated entirely in secret. It involves 11 other countries, which make about 40 percent of the world’s economy.
Despite having far-ranging implications for the economies and job markets in not just the signatory countries, but just about everywhere affected by them, plus involving a raft of controversial issues, public interest in, and engagement with, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has been muted.
What is it?
The TPP is a US-led secret trade deal aimed at promoting free trade among its members. The exact details, however, are not known (they are secret!), but thanks to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks we have a fairly good idea of their outline.
It has the support big business (such as Nike), of course, and President Obama appears mad-keen to push the legislation through, despite considerable resistance from within his own party (notably from senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren).
Supporters claim that the TPP will ‘cut the red tape’ preventing businesses making money, and will thus encouraging free trade, which it is claimed will be good for the US (and other participants’) economy.
Detractors point out that it its provisions appear to be similar to the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which cost the US over half a million jobs. They also claim that the TPP’s copyright provisions are over-broad, too punitive, and will stifle creativity, and that the TPP criminalizes journalists who are legitimately doing their job, and whistleblowers.
Obama, for is part, has struck back against accusations that the deal is ‘secret’ or is being rushed through,
‘You’ve got some critics saying that any deal would be rushed through; it’s a secret deal, people don’t know what’s in it. This is not true. Any agreement that we finalize with the other 11 countries will have to be posted online for at least 60 days before I even sign it. Then it would go to Congress — and you know they’re not going to do anything fast.’
It is curious, however, the rapidity with which the legislation was presented for approval by the Senate on Tuesday. With strong opposition from both Republican senators, and members within his own party, the 52-45 vote fell well short of the 60 votes needed to fast track it, with only one Democrat, Thomas R. Carper of Delaware, voting with the President.
Although this is a major blow to the legislation, ‘President Obama has already blasted his mailing lists to try and win more support for the next big push to pass the bill. It’s likely a new version would still fall far short of addressing the secrecy of negotiations.’
Why the TPP is evil
The most heinous provision will be the right of companies to sue governments for enacting legislation which impedes their profits. This means, for example, that if a sovereign government decides to ban a food ingredient because it known to cause cancer, international corporations can then sue for loss of earnings (with ordinary taxpayers having to pick up the $multi-million bill!)
This will seriously damage government’s ability to implement environmental protections, will degrade local labor laws, and will compromise food safety standards (among other things) – all in the name of making more profits.
As this is BestVPN, however, we will concentrate here on issues more directly related to online privacy and internet security…
SOPA-like removal of content without court oversight
Under the TPP, ISPs will become liable for policing their networks – blocking content, imposing punitive measures on copyright offenders (that go well beyond the current ‘six strikes’ provisions most have agreed to), and even being forced to hand over offenders details for legal action by copyright holders.
The worst part about this is that ISP’s will have to comply simply on the copyright holder’ say-so, as there is no judicial oversight to ensure that demands are fair, proportionate, or even accurate.
Even if used simply to tackle copyright piracy, many will not be happy at the scope these powers give copyright holders. However, given that ISPs must comply with any takedown demand framed as a copyright issue, the potential for abuse by restricting free speech is considerable.
Criminalizing file sharing
According to the leaked text, even copyright offences ‘not carried out for commercial advantage or financial gain’ will be subject to,
‘Criminal procedures and penalties…that include sentences of imprisonment as well as monetary fines sufficiently high to provide a deterrent to future acts of infringement, consistently with the level of penalties applied for crimes of a corresponding gravity.’
Limiting Fair Use and making copyright more restrictive
Despite being touted as a ‘free trade agreement’ (whether or that that is a good or bad thing in itself we leave to readers’ discretion), many of its provisions in fact smack of protectionism. This is never more true than in its attitude to copyright provisions, which it seeks to extend, while at the same time limiting the definition of ‘fair use’ exemptions to copyright far beyond those currently covered by US law. According to the leaked draft, ‘fair use’ is defined as,
‘Members shall confine limitations and exceptions to exclusive rights to (Step 1) certain special cases (Step 2) which do not conflict with a normal exploitation of the work and (Step 3) do not unreasonably prejudice the legitimate interests of the rights holder.’
Other provisions include enforcing the United States’ excessive 70 year copyright terms on other TPP members (‘for works created by individuals, and either 95 years after publication or 120 years after creation for corporate owned works) such as Mickey Mouse)).’
So what can we do about it?
The Electronic Frontier (EFF) and Fight for the Future digital rights organization have teamed up to organize a letter from user rights groups and tech companies to members of Congress, calling on them to come out against Fast Track and the TPP.
The letter and sign-on form is here.
Their goal is to reach 100 tech companies and organizations in the U.S. within the week. If you are a company then be great if you could reach out to others and send the letter along to them. The deadline for endorsements is COB Monday May 18.
Individuals can also help by signing the Battle for the Internet petition, and lobbying their Congress representatives to block this heinous and undemocratic legislation.
Oh… and for any Europeans out there feeling all smug about not being involved in the TPP, watch out for upcoming and very similar TTIP…!