Wyden amendments look to demolish U.S. copyright treaty

By Stephen C. Webster
Tuesday, March 20, 2012 17:00 EDT
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Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), left, speaks to John Heilemann of New York Magazine on Oct. 17, 2011. Photo: Flickr user Kevin Krejci.
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If the Senate passes a forthcoming “jobs” bill supported by House Republicans, two new amendments introduced this week by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) would provide the added benefit of essentially destroying the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), a controversial copyright treaty that has Europe’s Internet activists up in arms.

The amendments appear to strategically target H.R. 3606, which Republicans have promoted as “jobs” bill because it lets companies sell stock once they reach $5 million in capital — but Democrats have questioned the bill’s logic, mainly because it also strips away regulations that make it hard for publicly traded companies to defraud their investors.

Wyden’s amendments are part of a Democratic pile-on that aims to fix the bill by inserting investor protections and other related safeguards — but the fixing of copyright protections in Wyden’s amendments seems to have at least some bipartisan appeal.

Democrats have tended to be more in favor of strict copyright enforcement, calling tough measures on intellectual property part of their efforts to bolster American jobs. Republicans largely agree that copyright must be enforced, but they’re hesitant to inject new rules or regulations that give the president or the content industries any more power, especially during a time when conservative rhetoric castigating Hollywood seems to earn them some traction with constituents.

The first of Wyden’s amendments (PDF) is quite simple: it bans the president from unilaterally entering any legally binding trade agreement that imposes obligations on the U.S. regarding intellectual property — and it specifically says this would retroactively apply to ACTA, which was signed by President Obama last year without a vote in Congress.

A separate amendment (PDF) goes a step further than just forcing a ratification vote: it would also demolish the secretive process used by the U.S. Trade Representative during ACTA’s creation, placing any and all further international copyright talks firmly in the public’s eye. This amendment would serve a secondary purpose, too: ongoing negotiations on the forthcoming Trans Pacific Partnership, a copyright and trade treaty rumored to be even broader than ACTA, would become public as well.

Taken together, both amendments represent a flashing red reset button for lawmakers who are wary of copyright issues in the wake of the Internet’s first major work stoppage protest, which utterly destroyed two bills, SOPA and PIPA, that would have forever remade how American citizens share information online. Following the protest, dozens of Republicans broke ranks with the formerly bipartisan majority that aimed to pass the bills, much to the movie and music industries’ dismay.

Since its emergence on the world’s stage, ACTA has become highly controversial, especially across Europe, where copyright laws are more liberal on issues of fair use. In the U.S., many activists are concerned that it essentially ties the hands of Congress in the event that lawmakers decide to look at copyright reforms. Under ACTA’s current terms, Congress could only accomplish reforms by going through the lengthy process of withdrawing from the framework or renegotiating it with member states.

It is not yet clear if the amended “jobs” bill has any chance of clearing the Senate, and Wyden’s press secretary was not available to comment.

Photo: Flickr user Kevin Krejci.

(H/T: Ars Technica)

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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