ConsumerNZ raises concerns about Trans-Pacific Partnership

Organisation critical of treaty's proposed extension of copyright

ConsumerNZ is publicly expressing reservations about the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPPA), still in negotiation.

The consumer advocate is the broadest-based organisation yet to have voiced opposition to the planned treaty. Misgivings have typically been expressed in the past by specific sectors, including the ICT industry.

Consumer criticises its intellectual property chapter on grounds that the extension of copyright - proposed by US negotiators from 50 years to 70 years after the death of the author – will place restrictions on parallel importing. It questions the impact the TPP would have on the government’s drug-buying agency Pharmac and the possible extension of the terms of drug patents and the overall question of the secrecy of TPP negotiations.

A report on its website quotes TUANZ CEO Paul Brislen and InternetNZ policy lead Susan Chalmers on technological aspects of the treaty. “There are already problems about lending e-books and sharing music with friends,” Brislen is quoted as saying “Currently digital purchases (like music, movies, books) feel like they aren't actually yours.”

Brislen says he has no problem with the concept of copyright of itself; it allows creators to earn income from their intellectual work, but extensions of the copyright period compromise accessibility of up-to-date information for study, particularly in schools.

ConsumerNZ links threatened parallel importing restrictions to freedom of online sales and of the internet as a whole, citing web inventor Tim Berners-Lee’s warnings earlier this year about the dangers of compromising the internet’s openness.

“Many of the sellers on Trade Me are parallel importers,” it says; “under the TPP these sellers are likely to be out of business.”

Tightening of restrictions on conversion of data formats could worsen an already bad situation for blind or partially sighted and other print-disabled users.

“The ability to shift the formats of information (such as converting a book to Braille) is vitally important. Losing this under the TPP would be a terrible outcome,” the report says. “New Zealand is involved in talks with WIPO (the World Intellectual Property Organisation) to ensure this ability remains legal.”

ConsumerNZ expresses optimism that, from what we know of the progress of negotiations, New Zealand’s negotiators support a liberal line and “are strong-minded in what they want”

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