Negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) are expected by some participants to conclude this month[1], although the Malaysian Prime Minister has indicated that this goal is optimistic[2]. 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.”

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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[1], sued for millions of dollars for copyright infringement[2], and collectively forbidden access to their cultural heritage[3]. 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[4].

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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[1].

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.”

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Following Shadow Attorney-General George Brandis’ comments that the Liberal/National Party has not formed policy positions on mandatory data retention and copyright law[1], Pirate Party Australia calls the major parties out on their sluggishness. While these issues do not make good tabloid fodder, they cut to the heart of our modern, digitally connected society. Neither major party has taken a firm position on these issues that have an enormous impact on privacy and culture.

“With surveillance, data retention and copyright reform being significant issues at the moment, it is simply not good enough for the two major parties to drag their feet,” said Brendan Molloy, lead Pirate Party Senate candidate for NSW. “A policy set cannot be comprehensive and suitable for modern Australia if it fails to address the very real threat that data retention poses to our privacy. Given the amount of data that Australians provide over the Internet daily, protections are needed, and regardless of which party forms government after this election, we need their cards on the table now.”

“There have been massive shifts globally with regard to copyright laws, and the Australian Law Reform Commission is set to release a set of recommendations to make Australia’s copyright laws more appropriate for a digital environment. We urge both major parties to seriously consider these recommendations, rather than ignore them as was done to the Copyright Law Review Committee in 1996.”

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Pirate Party Australia offers an alternative to the cultural policies of both major parties and the approach advocated by Liberal Senator George Brandis in the Australian recently. The Party’s policy fosters a participatory cultural environment that promotes greater development and innovation, boosting community programs and outlets while reducing the restrictions copyright law places on our culture.

Contrary to Mr Brandis’ implied support of draconian copyright laws[1], the Pirate Party believes strongly in relaxing copyright to bring it more in line with contemporary needs and expectations. Rapid changes in technology, including affordability and access, have resulted in copyright law from the print era being erroenously applied to contexts where interactions with and uses of copyrighted material have changed.

“If we want people to respect copyright, we must have respectable copyright law,” said Brendan Molloy, Senate Candidate for NSW. “References made to the current state of copyright law by Senator Brandis are troubling in that legal restrictions that prevent artists building on previous works threaten the sustainable development of culture. When we lock culture up for nearly two centuries, we severely limit the ability for works to be reused in new contexts.”

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