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    Congress Could Shut Public Out of Internet-Regulation Treaty Talks

    Written by

    DJ Pangburn


    Trans-Pacific Partnership protesters, via Flicker/CC

    Up until this week, things were rather quiet on the Trans-Pacific Partnership's (TPP) front. Now, Senate Finance committee chairmen Sen. Orrin Hatch and Sen. Max Baucus are once again calling on Congress to fast-track legislation that would hand its constitutional power to negotiate trade agreements—particularly international copyright laws—to President Obama's trade representative, Michael Froman.

    As Politico reported this week, Froman has been spending an inordinate amount of his time lobbying both Republicans and Democrats to fast-track TPP through Congress. “We think it would be good to get [trade promotion authority] as soon as possible with as broad bipartisan support as possible,” Froman told Politico. Well, it looks like he will get what he wants in negotiating the mega-trade deal between 12 Pacific countries. 

    This is troubling for a number of reasons. First of all, Congress is constitutionally empowered to debate trade agreements, and hold committee hearings on the same. In the fast-track version of TPP, this power would be usurped; and the public, including figures who have actually built the infrastructure of the internet, would be shut out. In other words, politicians and corporations would craft the trade agreement in secret, leaving the public to learn of TPP's copyright provisions either through leaked documents or when it goes into effect.

    One bone of contention with TPP is that it would prohibit temporary storage of works in electronic form. What this means to the average person, among other things, is that YouTube videos wouldn't run as smoothly. Every time a user watches a video, a temporary file is downloaded to the individual's computer, allowing for better viewing. No one knows exactly what legal effect this would have on internet users, but Electronic Frontier Foundation considers the provision to be needless regulation. It's hard to argue the opposite, as the creation of temporary files—including caching web pages and the temporary files stored by your browser—are essential to viewing pretty much anything on our devices.

    The trade agreement's copyright provisions would also extend copyright terms from life-of-the-author plus 50 years to 70 years. This, of course, benefits few aside from publishers, and other corporate owners of content. So, if an author writes a book at 30 years old, and lives until the ripe old age of 90, then that book wouldn't transfer into the public domain for 130 years, which is absurd and counter-productive to education and culture. 

    TPP would also implement a three-strikes policies requiring internet service providers (ISPs) to terminate user Internet access. Under this provision, an internet user wouldn't have to be convicted of copyright infringement, only alleged to have done so. Under TPP, ISPs would also have to filter any content that potentially violates copyright, and force them to identify their customers in investigations of copyright infringement. 

    The trade agreement's negative aspects don't end there. Some believe the trade deal would adversely affect farmers across the globe, as well as access to live-saving drugs by limiting the availability of cheap generic drugs. For additional criticism of TPP's IP provisions, head over to Public Knowledge's TPP Info