The overnight release of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement’s draft intellectual property chapter has exceeded Pirate Party Australia’s worst fears. While the Party is yet to undertake a thorough analysis of the draft, there are already some provisions that are glaringly ill-considered.
Despite numerous assurances from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) the TPP would not require changes to domestic intellectual property legislation, the draft text indicates that substantial legislative changes would be required if the United States and Australia got its way. These changes may include the criminalisation of “significant willful copyright […] infringements that have no direct […] motivation of financial gain.”
“This corporate wishlist masquerading as a trade agreement is bad for access to knowledge, access to medicine, and access to innovation. It re-enforces the worst parts of our intellectual property enforcement regime on a regional level, making the necessary positive reforms for the digital era much more difficult, if not impossible,” said Brendan Molloy, Councillor of Pirate Party Australia.
“It is absolutely appalling that we are still relying on leaked texts to determine just what we’re getting ourselves into with these trade agreements. Even Parliament is being kept in the dark. It’s time to release the text, and all future texts, so that transparency and oversight can result in texts that help, not hinder, legitimate Australian interests. There is no economic justification for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement’s intellectual property provisions. DFAT must immediately hold public briefings to explain their now public negotiating positions. It’s time for some accountability.”
The Australian delegation is attributed with the minority in many cases, often siding with the US. The current text would require the accession of all parties to several other intellectual property agreements in order to be a member of this agreement, endangering any future positive reform efforts due to layering of treaties. The US is pushing for pharmaceutical provisions that the Australian delegation is standing against.
The Australian reported today that Attorney-General George Brandis has sent letters to copyright holders and ISPs to organise discussions on the best way to stop file sharing. The article suggests plans are afoot to create a censorship regime to block sites that enable file sharing.
Pirate Party Australia condemns any plan to install a censorship regime, whether it is to block ‘objectionable content’ (as attempted by the previous government) or to block access to websites that may include unauthorised copyrighted material.
“Yet again we are faced with a government that is an enemy of the Internet,” commented Simon Frew, President of Pirate Party Australia. “Previous Attorney-Generals organised secret meetings between ISPs and the copyright lobby, deliberately excluding consumers, and now history repeats. We demand that any consultation about the future of the Internet be conducted transparently and include competent and trusted representatives of the community, not just vested interests.”
Negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) are expected by some participants to conclude this month, although the Malaysian Prime Minister has indicated that this goal is optimistic. The TPP is one of the largest trade agreements in history and is being negotiated, in secret, by twelve countries: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam.
In the past two years there have been only a handful of leaked draft texts for the intellectual property and investment chapters, but little in the way of official information on the actual content or negotiating positions. Signatory nations to the TPP will be required to modify their laws to conform with the requirements of the TPP where necessary.
Pirate Party Australia is critical of the lack of transparency in the negotiations and the content of the TPP. It is known from leaked texts that the TPP will include an intellectual property chapter which may further extend the reach of legislation such as the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The text indicates that the chapter will impose provisions at least as severe as the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) which was last year rejected by the European Parliament following enormous protests across Europe. ACTA’s ratification has been delayed following recommendations from Australia’s Joint Standing Committee on Treaties.
“The only time that the Australian public will be able to comment on the text is when it is finished and signed,” said Simon Frew, President of Pirate Party Australia. “There is no opportunity to critique and to provide input, or to even see what is being planned. We are talking about potentially major changes to Australian laws and the public is being shut out. Pirate Party Australia has attended and presented at numerous ‘consultations’ and negotiating rounds, where representatives from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have given half-answers and limited indications of what changes will actually be required by the Agreement.”
Pirate Party Australia is part of a global movement founded to fight for reform of copyright laws.
Copyright laws are among the most expansive intrusions by the state into our daily lives. They control what we can see and read and say. They impose artificial scarcity on expression and content, which mimics the genuine scarcity of physical resources. They influence art, culture, and technology.
Copyright laws were intended to encourage creation of content by providing a limited monopoly for creative work, after which material entered the public domain to inspire and inform other artists. However, this historical function of copyright has been pushed aside by the demands of powerful lobbyists. Copyright duration has been extended from 14 years to over a century. This effectively cuts the flow of material to the public domain, and perpetual copyright duration has shifted the bulk of creative material into corporate vaults. The ability to exploit the same material in perpetuity acts against the creation of new material, completely undermining the purpose of copyright.
All over the world, members of the public are being threatened for fictional crimes, sued for millions of dollars for copyright infringement, and collectively forbidden access to their cultural heritage. Most worryingly, corporate copyright holders have lobbied for the right to monitor private communications and disconnect people from the Internet without engaging in due process.
With the closure of submissions on the Copyright Legislation Amendment (Fair Go for Fair Use) Bill 2013, Pirate Party Australia urges all Parliamentarians to support this vital change to Australia’s copyright laws. The bill is for an “Act to provide for the better use of, and fairer access to, copyrighted information, and for related purposes,” and would introduce much needed provisions and protections to Australian copyright law.
Chief among these is the introduction of fair use: a broad, flexible copyright exception that would be similar to that in place in the United States. Under fair use, greater use of copyrighted material would be permitted based on certain ‘fairness factors.’ This would be an enormous boon to the digital environment where copyrighted material is being used in many different ways that are not strictly speaking legal.
“Australia has, through various treaties and trade agreements, been burdened by many of the negative aspects of US copyright law without introducing the positive aspects,” said Joseph Miles, Pirate Party Senate candidate for Victoria. “Under the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement, the copyright term was increased to life plus seventy years, and yet Australia did not import with that fair use protections. A situation where Australians are subjected to a stricter copyright regime than even the United States should not be tolerated.”
“Copyright is a two-way street: it does not exist solely for the copyright holder’s benefit. There must be provisions for the fair use of copyrighted material by society. After all, it is Australian citizens who, through the Copyright Act, provide copyright holders with their right. This Bill will significantly level the playing field.”