WikiLeaks reveals secret trade agreement that could crack down on web freedom
A secret draft proposal of a controversial trade agreement shows the Obama administration is trying to push through a corporate wish list that resembles a failed anti-piracy measure and would limit intellectual freedom and likely increase health care costs.
The online whistleblower group WikiLeaks posted the complete draft Wednesday of the 95-page Intellectual Property chapter of the highly secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed commercial agreement between the United States and 11 Asian and Latin American countries.
The multinational trade agreement has been in secret negotiations for at least two years and would encompass about 40 percent of the global economy, and the excerpted chapter shows the U.S. is trying to impose the wildest demands by Hollywood, the recording industry and the pharmaceutical industry both at home and abroad.
“If instituted, the TPP’s IP regime would trample over individual rights and free expression, as well as ride roughshod over the intellectual and creative commons,” said WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. “If you read, write, publish, think, listen, dance, sing or invent; if you farm or consume food; if you’re ill now or might one day be ill, the TPP has you in its crosshairs.”
Critics say the proposal, if enacted, would severely limit access to affordable medicine, the Internet and textbooks, and shrink consumer rights and protections.
“The Obama administration’s proposals are the worst – the most damaging for health – we have seen in a U.S. trade agreement to date,” said Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen’s global access to medicines program. “The Obama administration has backtracked from even the modest health considerations adopted under the Bush administration.”
Maybarduk said the proposals would create preventable suffering and death, particularly in Asia, and likely lock Americans into high prices for cancer drugs.
The August draft proposal, which will be discussed again next week in Salt Lake City, calls for the granting of more patents, the creation of intellectual property rights on data, extending the terms of protection for patents and copyrights and the privileges of rights holders, and increasing penalties for copyright infringement.
The proposal also limits exceptions for all types of intellectual property rights.
“Negotiated in secret, the proposed text is bad for access to knowledge, bad for access to medicine, and profoundly bad for innovation,” said James Love, of Knowledge Ecology International.
The U.S. is pushing for other countries to extend their copyright terms to the life of the author plus 70 years for individuals and 95 years for corporate-owned works and create legal penalties for circumventing measures to prevent copying of DVDs and digital music, such as iTunes.
“The WikiLeaks text also features Hollywood and recording industry inspired proposals — think about the SOPA debacle — to limit internet freedom and access to educational materials, to force internet providers to act as copyright enforcers and to cut off people’s internet access,” said Burcu Kilic, an intellectual property lawyer with Public Citizen.
SOPA, or the Stop Online Privacy Act, was abandoned last year after a massive public campaign derailed an attempt by Congress to restrict access to some websites where copyrighted material could be hosted and require Internet service providers to police the sites they hosted.
Love said there was little reason to include copyright language in the TPP, since member countries are already bound to copyright obligations as part of their membership in the World Trade Organization, although the draft proposes lengthier terms for copyright protection.
According to the draft, the U.S. also wants to prohibit temporary storage, including Internet caching, of copyrighted works and criminalize the nonprofit publication of copyrighted material, dubbed the “WikiLeaks clause.”
“The implications are staggering,” said the Electronic Frontier Foundation in a statement. “Computers and networks create, in the normal course of operation, temporary and ephemeral copies. Regulations on these sorts of copies, as described in the earlier leak, would interfere with basic technical operations and give rights holders an opportunity to sit on an essential choke point of the Internet.”
The leaked document also shows which countries support or oppose each proposal, and Love said the draft “reveals that the most anti-consumer and anti-freedom country in the negotiations is the United States, taking the most extreme and hard-line positions on most issues.”
But he said the draft also shows that several other nations were willing to go along with U.S. demands in their quest to secure a trade agreement.
The AARP and consumer advocacy groups expressed deep concern last week in a letter to the Obama administration that TPP would limit the ability of states and the federal government to moderate drug and medical device costs.
According to the leaked documents, the U.S. proposed that tobacco companies be permitted to sue governments in front of foreign tribunals to demand taxpayer compensation for health regulations, although the draft shows that measure is not expected to pass.
The U.S. also wants member countries to require patents for plants, animals and medical procedures, and it’s demanding longer terms of patent protection and compensation for delays in the patent application process.
President Barack Obama and his trade representative, Michael Froman, have said they want to finalize the TPP by the end of the year and have asked Congress to grant fast-track authority to the White House, which would allow them to sign the finalized trade agreement without amendments by lawmakers.
But at least 170 House members, including a reported 151 Democrats and 23 Republicans, have signed letters indicating their unwillingness to allow the president and his representative to “diplomatically legislate.”
Lawmakers would probably not even be able to read the final agreement until after Congress has signed away its powers to shape the trade pact.
Froman and critics of the pact agree that other TPP members — Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam — would likely back out of the deal without congressional approval of fast-track authority.
“This could be the end of T.P.P.,” said Lori Wallach of Public Citizen. “All these other countries are like, ‘Wait, you have no trade authority and nothing you’ve promised us means anything? Why would we give you our best deal?’ Why would you be making concessions to the emperor who has no clothes?”
Public Citizen says negotiations have stalled among member countries because some of the more far-fetched proposals by the U.S., particularly on intellectual property, are so unpopular.
“Given how much text remains disputed, the negotiation will be very difficult to conclude,” Maybarduk said. “Much more forward-looking proposals have been advanced by the other parties, but unless the U.S drops its out-there-alone demands, there may be no deal at all.”
Watch Julian Assange discuss the documents’ release in a video posted online by The WikiLeaksChannel:
[Image via Agence France-Presse]