A recent leak of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) draft intellectual property chapter shows that negotiators remain divided over key issues. The leak reveals that in May 2014 there was limited agreement on the intellectual property provisions, despite the negotiations being ongoing since at least 2008. The TPP is notorious for the secrecy of its negotiations and the exclusion of the public despite it being widely known that some corporate lobbyists have had access to draft texts and a strong hand in influencing negotiating positions.
Of concern are draft provisions that would substantially increase the cost of medical treatment, both domestically and in other participating countries, which demonstrates the strong lobbyist influence on the negotiations. Other provisions may expand Internet service provider surveillance of subscribers, expand what can be patented, and seriously undermine competition by strengthening monopoly rights.
“It is time for the game of secrecy to end. The negotiations seem to be going around in circles and be contrary to the stated positions of the negotiating nations. They fly in the face of expert opinions, and consultations thus far have been little more than shams,” said Brendan Molloy, Pirate Party President.
“Negotiating in this fundamentally undemocratic way will see the involved nations saddled with obligations designed by lobbyists for the benefit of lobbyists, and by the time we find out exactly what those obligations are it’ll already be signed and imposed upon us,” Mr Molloy continued.
Of enormous concern is the removal of an article that would ensure Article 31 of the TRIPS Agreement remained fully effective. Article 31 regards compulsory licences of patents to ensure national emergencies in developing countries can be effectively managed. Limiting the effect of Article 31 is likely to have extremely negative effects on managing local and global epidemics.
The Pirate Party made a lengthy submission to the Attorney-General’s Department last Friday, responding to the Department’s “Online Copyright Infringement” discussion paper. The submission highlighted a number of flaws with the discussion paper, such as reliance upon studies commissioned by copyright lobbyists, and also drew attention to the lack of government action on recommendations that could reduce online copyright infringement by improving prices and availability of digital content in Australia.
It also highlighted the lack of reliable and independent empirical evidence for the discussion paper’s proposals, and criticised attempts by copyright lobbyists to compare copyright infringement with terrorism or the distribution of child sexual abuse materials. The discussion paper proposes creating obligations for Internet service providers to cooperate with copyright holders, which may mean implementing a graduated response or “three strikes” scheme where Internet users are sent letters if accused of infringing copyright. It also proposes allowing copyright holders to seek injunctions requiring ISPs to block access to websites.
Mozart Olbrycht-Palmer, principal author of the Pirate Party’s submission, said: “The Government decided to focus its attention on changing consumer behaviour and our submission explains at great length why that approach just won’t work. If online copyright infringement is truly out of control, copyright holders only have themselves to blame. The reality is that increasing access and affordability of content will reduce online copyright infringement: just look at Steam, Netflix and Spotify. The discussion paper acknowledges this but its proposals are focused in entirely the wrong area.
The Pirate Party denounces any attempts to include certification provisions in the highly secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP). The United States, one of twelve negotiating nations including Australia, may be given the power to opt-out of the Agreement if countries do not implement the TPP according to the standards of the United States Trade Representative. This has been used by the United States to pressure other countries into adopting its interpretation of trade agreements.
These provisions give an inordinate amount of leverage to the US Government to pressure treaty partners, such as Australia, to alter and adopt laws that go beyond the negotiated text of the treaty. In practice this could result in a situation where the US Government and its advisors are approving, or even drafting, Australian laws to ensure they comply with the interests and expectations of the United States.
Brendan Molloy, President of the Pirate Party, commented: “This is an egregious overreach. I daresay that any Australian government that signs such an unbalanced agreement, which puts such an unequal share of power in the hands of a foreign entity, is guilty of betraying the interests of the Australian people. A partnership where all parties do not have equal power is not a partnership. By signing such a fundamentally unbalanced agreement, Australia would be granting the US significant control of our sovereignty, making us effectively a vassal of the United States.
The Pirate Party is critical of the Attorney-General’s Department’s recently released Online Copyright Infringement Discussion Paper, citing a number of concerns relating to the approach of the paper, its timing and the apparent influence of industry lobbyists.
Pirate Party President-elect, Brendan Molloy, commented: “The Discussion Paper makes a number of misleading assumptions and unsubstantiated claims, while failing to adequately address issues of affordability and accessibility. Instead of addressing the reality that Australians are paying more money for less content than other countries, the Discussion Paper is biased towards turning Internet service providers into ‘Internet police’ and censorship in the form of website blocking, neither of which have proven effective overseas.
“The Government has taken up the cause of the copyright industry lobbyists at an alarming speed. This issue was not on the Government’s agenda prior to the election, and it is only since February that the Attorney-General has given a clear indication of the Government’s direction on this issue. The Government wants Australian Internet service providers to police Australian citizens. Recent studies have shown this will be ineffective, and increased costs will be passed on to Australians consumers.
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Pirate Party Australia has seized upon questions presented by Senator Scott Ludlam to Attorney-General George Brandis during Senate Estimates regarding the Federal Government’s copyright policy and proposals to curb online copyright infringement. The Attorney-General’s responses display Brandis’ inability to properly answer questions on the matter, and suggest that he and his department are solely interested in consulting with industry and copyright holders when forming policy.
The Attorney-General was unable to confirm whether he had consulted with consumer and public interest groups on proposals to introduce a graduated response (“three strikes”) scheme to target file-sharing. Graduated response regimes have been implemented overseas and result in fines and disconnections for those alleged to have infringed copyright online. There is limited evidence to suggest these regimes are effective.
“The vague responses and misdirection by Senator Brandis confirm that the process of developing an anti-infringement strategy is being hidden from the Australian public, and further to that offer no confirmation as to whether there has even been any consultation with consumer groups,” said Simon Frew, President of Pirate Party Australia.