Green MP sparks intellectual property debate

Green MP Gareth Hughes warns of 'extensive negative ramifications' of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement

Green MP Gareth Hughes, in a blog post, has sought to reignite public debate on the intellectual property provisions of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. Media discussion of the proposed international treaty has recently focused on access for agricultural produce and regulations governing overseas investment and pharmaceuticals.

New Zealand has been hosting the latest round of the TPPA negotiations in Auckland this month and the event, at Sky City, has attracted vociferous protest. However, as usual, details of the negotiation are under wraps. If previous rounds are any indication, the public may get a brief communiqué some time after the round concludes.

Hughes has based his comments on leaked drafts indicating the US position, which may well have been significantly amended since the drafts appeared. The last extensively leaked draft of the US position on IP is dated February 10, 2011 and was characterised at the time by local IP lawyer Rick Shera as “negotiation bullying” – setting an extreme but hardly realistic position from which some concessions could safely be made.

“Well it's all we have to go on, and obviously was a negotiating point,” says Hughes when questioned on its current relevance. “Talking to people involved in following [the discussions] it seems very much still on the table,” he says.

“Leaked draft texts of the agreement show that the US-influenced IP chapter would have extensive negative ramifications for users’ freedom of speech, right to privacy and due process, and stifle innovation,” Hughes says on his blog. He is quoting from and linking to a bulletin on the site of digital activist organisation the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The EFF comment in turn bases its argument substantially on the February 2011 draft.

Hughes rehearses arguments about potential erosion of “permitted uses” of copyright material under New Zealand law, the possibility of liability for online copyright breaches attaching to intermediaries such as ISPs, and the US proposal to regulate temporary copies, which are integral to the functioning of the internet.

Hughes’s blog is attracting comments, some in sympathy with his views, some accusing him of only seeing “half the story”.

“You’re happy to have laws that will allow any big overseas company to rip off Kiwi creatives – photographers, cinematographers, writers, designers, artists, musicians etc – and give them little power to do anything about it,” says “photonz1.”

“It’s hard enough to stop that now under current weak rules,” the commenter continues “And you want to weaken them further so Kiwis can be ripped off even more.”

“The question of how you get compensated and how, and how someone is prevented from scanning one of your images or bootleg recording someone’s songs and then posting, is quite difficult,” replies “bjchip”.

“[However], the proper response isn’t to extend copyright to the end of time, or to cede our sovereignty in making our laws. That’s wrong.”

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