Civil society organisations including Creative Commons helped deliver a win against the restrictive IP terms of the TPP, which were developed secret and would have locked down content and restricted user rights.
For the last five years the Creative Commons community has been organising against the restrictive copyright provisions put forth in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). We’ve written letters demanding increased transparency, contributed to public events such as the Rock Against the TPP concerts, and drafted an analysis of the copyright-related aspects of the TPP. In that document we said, “there is no logical reason to increase the term of copyright: an extension would create a tiny private benefit at a great cost to the public.”
According to a statement released Saturday, the ministers of the remaining countries negotiating the TPP have “agreed on the core elements” of the deal. Of particular interest are about 20 “suspended provisions” outlined in an annex to the ministerial statement. Most of the provisions in the chapter on intellectual property have been “suspended,” meaning they likely will be excluded from future negotiations. This includes the proposed 20 year increase in copyright term and the introduction of criminal penalties for circumventing technological protection measures.
Ryan Merkley, CEO of Creative Commons, said, “The suspension of the IP section of TPP is a huge win for the public, delivered in large part because of activists around the world who opposed the secret agreement. They exposed the terms and ensured there was public debate.”
The U.S. has been out of the picture since January 2017, when President Trump withdrew the United States from the agreement three days into his administration. Since that time, the name of the trade pact has been changed from TPP to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). The gigantic agreement still contains sweeping provisions regarding environmental regulation, pharmaceutical procurement, labor standards, food safety, and many other things. For nearly the last decade, it has been developed and negotiated completely in secret.
The news about the CPTPP comes during an active time of trade agreement talks, particularly in light of the re-negotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), now being “modernized” by Canada, Mexico, and the United States. Concerning those talks, we argued, “the NAFTA provisions having to do with copyright would do more harm than good if there’s not a significant shift in the balance in favor of the rights for users and the public to reflect the reality of today’s digital users.” A fundamental flaw with CPTPP, NAFTA, and nearly all other trade agreement negotiations is that they are entirely opaque to the population governed by them. In a letter to NAFTA negotiators, we demanded reforms to make the proceedings more transparent, inclusive and accountable. It is unacceptable that binding rules on intellectual property, access to medicines, and a variety of other trade-related sectors will be reworked within a process that is inaccessible and often hostile to input from members of the public.
All trade negotiations should be made through procedures that are transparent to the public and which include all stakeholders. Increased transparency and meaningful public participation will lead to better outcomes.
The negotiations of the CPTPP seem far from over, and it’s important to note that the provisions mentioned in the annex are only suspended, not removed entirely. Civil society organisations and consumer watchdog groups should continue to monitor the negotiations. But for now, the freezing of the worst parts of the IP chapter is a breath of fresh air in the otherwise dark, dank cave of trade policymaking.