New Zealand representatives in ICT and the internet are pleased at the attention and “positive feedback” they gained from negotiators formulating the intellectual property (IP) chapter of the Trans-Pacific partnership free trade agreement.
The latest round of negotiations on the controversial TPPA took place in Melbourne at the beginning of this month. New Zealand and Australian commentators in intellectual property, economics and ICT put on a lunch event seeking to explain their position to the negotiators from the eight participating countries.
Computerworld attended the lunch, on an undertaking not to report what was said in detail, lest this jeopardise future relations between the negotiators and their critics.
“I am told we had 100 percent of [TPPA’s] IP negotiators in the room,” says organiser Daniel Spector of NZRise. “We are optimistic that, at the very least, [we were] well listened to.” There was, however, no visible reaction from the delegates to critical presentations.
“The fact is, with the secrecy around the TPPA process, we will never know quite what impact we had,” says Spector. “There were no questions, because negotiators don’t want to tip their hands or give any clue to the other negotiating teams,” he suggests.
Speakers included InternetNZ CEO Vikram Kumar, Australian economist Nicholas Gruen, copyright law specialist Carolyn Dalton from Policy Australia and law professor Jonathan Benn.
Critics on the IP and ICT front are concerned at the proposed increased protection being afforded the commercial holders of intellectual property rights. An alleged skirting of legal due process, with much credit given to unilateral accusation by rights owners of alleged online copyright offenders, was thought to have been ameliorated in the 2010-11 negotiation of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), but is now raising its head again in the TPPA negotiations.
The question of secondary liability by ISPs for the copyright infractions of their customers is also on point, with calls for different countries’ distinctive ways of dealing with this to be recognised rather than steamrollered under a uniform international treaty.
Respect for permitted acts such as quoting for review or parody and satire under individual countries’ legislation is also in danger, critics suggest, particularly where material that should be accessible under these provisions is shielded by a technological protection mechanism that is difficult and/or illegal to breach.
TPPA negotiators have also evidently made some reference to controls on the acts of “transient” copying. This includes web caching and other temporary data handling processes which are fundamental to the operation of the internet.
Despite the secrecy surrounding the negotiations, “part of the exercise is giving the negotiators access to our speakers to support them with data,” says Spector. “As with the NZRise educational sessions during the Vietnam round last year, speakers have been quietly approached by delegates with requests for information and additional data. This continued interaction, long after the lunch is over, is clearly indicative of a need by delegations for more information on the possible unintended consequences of the proposed trade agreement.”
Associated with the Melbourne TPPA negotiations was a later event for stakeholders from all sides to put their point of view. Spector also attended this. “Personally, I was very interested in the first speaker from the stakeholders programme who spoke in support of TPPA - Dr Michael Plummer, Professor of International Economics from Johns Hopkins University.
“Though he was presenting on economic models supporting TPPA,” Spector says in an email to Computerworld, “even his models showed the possible economic benefits to NZ falling within the margin of error! [Spector’s emphasis] If the people who are doing the analysis can’t see a benefit for NZ, we have to again ask why we are making such an effort to be involved in this.
“NZRise would actively support a well considered, high-quality trade agreement for the 21st century that has had economic models run by New Zealand showing the benefit to our society,” Spector says. “No such effort has been made regarding TPPA, so we remain highly sceptical.”