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Copyright Fights Heat Up Again Around Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement

BY Miranda Neubauer | Tuesday, May 15 2012

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) today re-released part of a previously leaked February 2011 draft of the U.S. proposal for the Trans Pacific Partnership pact on his KeepTheWebOPEN website, as he joined calls by advocacy groups to make the currently ongoing deliberations about the treaty more open.

The United States, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam are all involved in negotiating the agreement, which include provisions about intellectual property and copyright that will play a role in the developing global online economy. A 12th round of negotiations on the deal is now under way in Dallas, Texas. Issa is encouraging users to use his MADISON platform to comment on the document, which the website Knowledge Economy International obtained and released in March 2011.

Advocacy groups like Public Knowledge are concerned about the provisions of the treaty that pertain to copyright. In a recent blog post, Public Knowledge staff attorney Rashmi Rangnath wrote that the February 2011 draft contains provisions that "could easily send an individual who downloaded a few songs to jail."

But that's based on the newly rereleased draft, over a year old. Because negotiations continue in secret, it's unclear what the text currently proposes.

Reuters reported earlier this this week that advocacy groups met with the chief U.S. negotiator for the TPP talks and asked for a release of the drafts. Weisel explained it was the U.S. position that the "constantly evolving TPP chapter texts cannot be released to the public," Reuters reported. U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk also told Reuters that some secrecy in the talks is necessary. He said it was too early in the negotiations to release the text. The U.S. Trade Representative's Office also stated it is committed to discussing "the formation of U.S. positions, the substance of negotiations as they take place and how issues should be handled by negotiators as talks continue."

In a recent letter to President Obama, several industry groups, such as the Chamber of Commerce, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), called for the Administration to advocate for tough intellectual property protections. "The strong IP protections proposed by the U.S. government in the TPP negotiations do not represent, as some suggest, a threat to public health, the development and expansion of the Internet or rights of freedom of speech, but rather a much-needed response to increasingly sophisticated threats to IP protection throughout the world," the groups write. "More, not less, rigorous IP rules are needed to thwart the explosion in IP infringement, including of pirated, counterfeit and unlawful copycat products throughout all sectors of the economy, and trade-secret theft."

This is part of a far broader debate — raging in earnest in other corners of the Internet — about whether online piracy is the symptom of an industry with a business model unsuited to the 21st century, if piracy itself is the core problem, and what role that government should or shouldn't play in where that industry goes from here.

What isn't at issue is whether online piracy happens — just how much harm it's doing to copyright holders and who should be doing something about it. In an online poll by Der Spiegel about the hit HBO series Game of Thrones, just over 50 percent of nearly 16,400 respondents said they watched the series online or as a download — months before the series was airing legally in Germany. According to reports, it's the most pirated TV show of the year.

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