Protesters urge the Indian government to refrain from signing the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement, in New Delhi, India, they are concerned that the agreement will impose severe restrictions on the Indian generic drugs manufacturers and will raise the price of life saving drugs severely, affecting thousands across the globe who can only barely afford the Indian made generic drugs. Placard reads “Patent and greed leads to death.”
WASHINGTON — Legislation to “fast track” the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has moved through both committees in the House and the Senate. This legislation, which would enable President Barack Obama to negotiate the terms of the international agreement without congressional input, is now on the floor of the House.
While the TPP has come under increasing scrutiny for its potential to erode the sovereignty of countries, an often overlooked aspect of the treaty is its threat to a free and open Internet.
“The Trans-Pacific Partnership is pushing the worst parts of U.S. copyright policy on the rest of the world without expanding protections for fair use,” said Evan Greer, campaign manager with Fight for the Future, an organization dedicated to protecting Internet freedoms.
Speaking to MintPress News, Greer explained that the TPP has the potential to create a system in which content could be censored with a copyright claim without maintaining basic protections to protect freedom of speech and innovation on the Internet. This could potentially allow copyright laws to be used by powerful institutions to pull down legitimate free speech on the Internet.
Yet Greer also acknowledged that nothing about the TPP is known for sure.
“The fundamental problem here is that we don’t know enough about it to know how it might affect us,” he said. “That’s one of the biggest problems. Internet users should have a say and a voice to access policy when it affects them.”
SOPA and the TPP
Fight for the Future formed in the lead up to fight the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) in 2012. Aiming to combat copyright infringement, those acts were promoted by Hollywood entertainment companies to censor websites caught broadcasting their content.
However, the legislation would have enabled law enforcement to wield much larger powers. The Electronic Frontier Foundation explains:
“Although the bills were ostensibly aimed at reaching foreign websites dedicated to providing illegal content, their provisions would allow for removal of enormous amounts of non-infringing content including political and other speech from the Web.”
Fight for the Future was instrumental in launching the SOPA Strike, the largest online protest in history. An array of companies and personal websites participating blacked out their websites for 12 hours on Jan. 18, 2012, many using Fight for the Future’s online tools. Some of those companies included Internet giants like Google, WordPress, Wikipedia and Flickr.
There is a direct line from SOPA to the TPP. Some of the same Hollywood lobbying firms that helped to write legislation and promote SOPA are now working on the Internet copyright chapter of the TPP, according to Greer. These firms include the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America.
“Essentially, after SOPA they realized they were never going to be able to get these draconian laws passed publically, so they’ve been trying to get them pushed into these secretive trade agreements,” Greer said.
According to the EFF, the TPP could potentially criminalize Internet users for non-commercial activities like file sharing. The organization, which works to defend civil liberties in the digital world, explained that the United States is attempting to put language in the treaty that would criminalize anyone who publishes work on a “commercial scale,” with penalties including prison and hefty monetary fines.
EFF explains the problem with the text’s language:
“As anyone who has ever had a meme go viral knows, it is very easy to distribute content on a commercial scale online, even without it being a money-making operation. That means fans who distribute subtitles to foreign movies or anime, or archivists and librarians who preserve and upload old books, videos, games, or music, could go to jail or face huge fines for their work. Someone who makes a remix film and puts it online could be under threat. Such a broad definition is ripe for abuse, and we’ve seen such abuse happen many times before.”
Nothing trickles down
The TPP is a comprehensive trade treaty set to potentially include Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, and the United States. It is much larger than the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and would include a whopping 40 percent of U.S. global trade.
Opposition among activists and congressional representatives stems largely from the notion that the agreement erodes countries’ sovereignty by giving multinational corporations the power to challenge local and national governmental rules and laws in tribunals set up by the United Nations or the World Bank.
WikiLeaks, which released a secret TPP document in March, explained that this information was supposed to remain undisclosed even after negotiations between participating countries conclude. “The document is classified and supposed to be kept secret for four years after the entry into force of the TPP agreement or, if no agreement is reached, for four years from the close of the negotiations,” WikiLeaks reports.
The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative describes the agreement as the “cornerstone of the Obama Administration’s economic policy in the Asia Pacific.” It asserts that the TPP will make it easier for Americans to export American-made products, strengthen labor rights, help the environment, and aid American small businesses. “The Trans-Pacific Partnership,” it says, “will grow trade with one of the world’s fastest growing regions, and share American values and commitment to improve labor practices and elevate environmental standards around the world.”
However, Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor (1993-1997), argues in a recent Christian Science Monitor article that this is simply a marketing scheme for a trade agreement that’s based in trickle-down economics theory, but nothing trickles down.
Rather than small businesses, Reich wrote: “The biggest beneficiaries would be giant American-based global corporations, along with their executives and major shareholders.” He added: “These corporations made sure the deal contains provisions expanding and protecting their intellectual property around the world, but not protecting American jobs.”