By Trevor Little
May 18 2012
With PROTECT IP and SOPA seemingly vanquished and ACTA facing new obstacles, the debate over IP protection and online freedom shows no sign of abating, with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) shaping up as the next battleground.
This week a letter from 50 academics was sent to members of the US Senate Committee on Finance, requesting that ACTA is submitted to Congress for approval, noting that “the Administration currently lacks a means to constitutionally enter ACTA without ex post Congressional approval”. The letter is merely the latest in a long number of obstacles for the agreement (last week saw fresh doubts raised in Europe), and with ACTA’s fate increasingly under question, attention is now being directed at the TPP following the leak of its draft IP chapter.
The multi-lateral free trade agreement is currently being negotiated by the United States, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam, but secrecy surrounding the talks sparked a range of rumours about its content (so far, so ACTA).
Senator Chris Dodd, chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, has joined other companies in urging “the Administration to ensure that strong IP protections are kept in place... Trademarks and associated branding are critical to business success in many industries. For consumers, strong IP rules are also vital to protect against counterfeit products in numerous areas from pharmaceuticals to automotive parts”.
Last week, however, academics wrote to the Office of the US Trade Representative’s (USTR) Ron Kirk explicitly warning of an ACTA-like fate for the secretive discussions. In response, Kirk stated he was “strongly offended by the assertion that our process has been non-transparent and lacked public participation. USTR has conducted in excess of 400 consultations with Congressional and private stakeholders on the TPP, including inviting stakeholders to all of the 12 negotiating rounds”.
Against the backdrop of this week’s round of talks in Dallas, Congressman Darrell Issa has leaked details of the text’s IP chapter, stating: “At a time when the American people and internet users all around the world are rightfully wary of any closed-door negotiations that could adversely impact their ability to freely and openly access the internet, the Obama Administration continues to pursue a secretive, closed-door negotiating process for the TPP. I have decided to publish the IP rights chapter of TPP so that the public can provide input to those negotiating this agreement, and to push this Administration - and the federal government as a whole - to be open, transparent and inclusive when it comes to international IP rights agreements that have potentially serious consequences for the internet community."
Online groups, including the Electronic Frontier Freedom, have voiced criticism of the secrecy surrounding the negotiations, while the provisions relating to copyright and piracy have also come under attack - the proposals described by some as ‘SOPA on steroids’.
Kirk told Reuters that the administration is being as open as possible about the international negotiations, but has to maintain some secrecy in the talks. However, maintaining such secrecy is proving ever more challenging in today’s online environment, particularly given the outcry provoked by PROTECT IP and SOPA, and subsequently ACTA. The next round of TPP negotiations will be held in California from July 2-10. Expect to hear a lot more about it in the intervening weeks, as piracy and IP protection again become the centre of arguments over internet freedom.
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