September 07, 2012, 4:06 PM — As the U.S. and eight other nations negotiate a wide-ranging trade agreement, several digital rights groups said they're concerned that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will bring back controversial copyright-enforcement provisions pushed by some U.S. policymakers in recent years.
Negotiators for countries negotiating the TPP, also including Singapore, New Zealand, Australia and Chile, have not released their proposed agreement, but some digital rights groups are concerned that the U.S. will push for copyright enforcement provisions found in unsuccessful bills the U.S. Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), and the still-alive Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA).
The TPP could hurt the freedom of individuals to access and use the Internet, critics said this week.
"We see that many of the intellectual-property provisions that have been reflected in ACTA, SOPA and PIPA are being pushed forward in this agreement," Maira Sutton, international IP coordinator at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said in a briefing for reporters this week.
The EFF and other digital rights groups have several concerns about the trade agreement. TPP negotiations, started in 2007, entered a 14th round Thursday. Negotiators are meeting in Leesburg, Virginia, until Sept. 15. In addition to the nine countries now involved, negotiators have invited Canada and Mexico to join. Eventually, up to 21 countries, representing about 40 percent of the world's population, could be involved in the talks.
Working off a leaked version of the TPP from 2011, digital rights groups are concerned that the agreement doesn't balance copyright protections with exceptions, including fair use, said Rashmi Rangnath, director of the Global Knowledge Initiative at Public Knowledge.
In July, the Office of U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) proposed that the TPP include a process for creating "an appropriate balance in their copyright systems in providing copyright exceptions and limitations for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research."
But that process is "open to interpretation" and doesn't give countries enough guidance on how to create fair-use rights, Rangnath said. Instead, fair use should be spelled out in the trade agreement, she added.
Public Knowledge is also concerned about tough rules against breaking digital rights management (DRM).