An early strike from the expanded Fair Deal Coalition takes the form of a letter to Trade Minister Tim Groser, setting out the characteristics of the kind of intellectual-property protection regime they would like to see come out of negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement (TPP).
The letter will be open to any member of the coalition to sign their own copy, so Groser can expect to receive a large number of copies from New Zealand and overseas. The statements it contains were agreed among members. “The intent is that the letter will be sent by organisations as is,” says InternetNZ policy lead Susan Chalmers, “but some may elect to modify it, for example highlighting only one of the four copyright issues listed. That's fine.
“We [coalition members] believe that a Fair Deal in the TPP is one that opens up new trade opportunities without forcing us to make changes to copyright law that would take a major toll on society,” Chalmers says. “We're not anti-trade.”
“As a group we are very diverse, but we share one thing in common; we seek appropriately balanced intellectual property laws that enable the great many sectors of society to conduct business, access information, educate and innovate,” the letter says.
A petition on the organisation’s new website asks negotiators and other decision-makers “please reject copyright proposals that restrict the open Internet, access to knowledge, economic opportunity and our fundamental rights.” It attracted more than 15,000 signatures in the first week the site was up in its new form.
Fears are expressed that there will be undue controls on the dissemination of digital; works in particular, with a danger that even some legal uses of copyrighted works could be blocked by needlessly broad and inflexible digital locking measures.
Groser has called the TPP a 21st-century agreement: it should not be used to promote a 20th century intellectual-property regime, the letter says.
Among concerns expressed at a meeting in Wellington to relaunch the now-international coalition, are that copyright terms could be extended – from the current 50 years to 70 years beyond the death of the author. For movies an extension to as much as 120 years after release has allegedly been discussed. The public might blame artists and performers for these restrictions, says Bronwyn Holloway of the Creative Freedom Foundation, and this could adversely affect their reputation, lead to public scepticism and “alienate fans”.
Against this, the benefit of such an extension would be minimal and accrue to very few, she says. The CFF wants to show the public that the “extremist views” of the Federation Against Copyright Theft (Fact) and the Recording Industry Association of NZ (Rianz) does not represent the only view coming from artists.
Maira Sutton of the Electronic Frontier Foundation – a digital civil liberties organisation - spoke over a video link from Peru, where she is attending the latest round of TPP negotiations. Colleagues are mobilising Peruvians to make clear to the negotiators that there are “red lines” of acceptability in copyright-law amendment that should not be crossed, she says. Sutton spoke at a stakeholders’ discussion attached to the talks about “how unbalanced copyright prevents innovation” and retards the progress of a modern economy. The briefing to the gathering from negotiators was “very general” and revealed no detail of what was being discussed, she says.
In the local contingent were Paul Brislen, CEO of Tuanz; Don Christie, co-chair of NZRise; Hadyn Green of Consumer, who expressed concern about the possible reduction or extinction of heard-won parallel-importing rights under New Zealand law; and Kevin Prince, speaking on behalf of Neil Jarvis, executive director for accessible information at the Royal NZ Foundation of the Blind.
Digital conversion of texts to enable blind and partially-sighted people to read them in Braille or hear them spoken is currently protected under New Zealand legislation, Jarvis says and acceptance of TPP terms reported to be under discussion could imperil those rights.