By Sherry Shen, L '16 What do Salt Lake City and Singapore have in common? Normally not very much, but officials from the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam have been burning the midnight oil in these two cities in order to conclude one of the most pivotal and sweeping free-trade pacts in history. The countries involved have a combined GDP of $28 trillion dollars or roughly 40% of the world’s GDP, and the agreement, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), seeks to enhance trade and investment among all the TPP partner countries. In the course of negotiations, some items that have drawn the most controversy, and still remain to be resolved, concern intellectual property.
Critics of the negotiations include internet freedom activists and advocacy groups who largely oppose the TPP on the grounds that it goes too far in mandating enforcement and criminal prosecution of those who unknowingly violate intellectual property rights. The expansiveness of the agreement and the fact that the negotiations are highly secretive have further fueled critic’s concerns that these negotiations will have extensive negative ramifications for users’ freedom of speech and right to privacy, as well as hinder innovation. While drafts of the agreement have never been officially released to the public, drafts of the Intellectual Property Chapter that have surfaced on Wikileaks indicate that U.S. negotiators are pushing for the adoption of copyright measures far more restrictive than currently required by international treaties. Because all partner countries will be required to conform their domestic laws to the provisions of the Agreement, these critics contend that the negotiations threaten to further entrench controversial aspects of US copyright law, such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
In contrast, proponents of the agreement argue that in order to ensure the efficacy of the TPP, the United States needs to continue to insist on strong intellectual protections in order to foster innovation and job creation. These proponents insist that strong protections on copyrighted music and movies, patents, and pharmaceutical data protection are necessary because they provide the incentives required for innovators and scientists to invest in new ideas and research. Furthermore, because intellectual-property driven businesses are responsible for over 40 million American jobs, weaker intellectual property laws pose a serious threat.
While some of the arguments for and against stronger intellectual property rights have been aired in the past, what is particularly noteworthy about these discussions is the potential impact the outcome these negotiations will ultimately have both in the United States and globally. The Economist may have best captured the tension of the situation:
“Some 100 Japanese officials descended on the tiny sultanate of Brunei in Borneo this week to pursue it. Malaysian politicians are working themselves up about the threat it poses. And, in Washington, at the office of the United States trade representative, “the lights are on all night; they’re sending out for pizzas,” says Mike Moore, New Zealand’s ambassador.”
The ultimate result of these negotiations remains to be determined, but it is certainly an outcome worth following, and we will be tracking their progress on the blog as more details are finalized and released.
For more on this topic, see http://wikileaks.org/tpp-enviro/ for the full leaked chapter on intellectual property chapter of the TPP.
For more sources that go more in depth into the differing opinions on intellectual property rights in the TPP, see the following:
(1) The Economist provides a broad overview. http://www.economist.com/news/asia/21583995-negotiations-secret-optimism-about-path-breaking-trade-deal-hard-share-trade
(2) The Electronic Frontier Foundation advocates for weaker intellectual property provisions and more disclosure of the TPP negotiation process. https://www.eff.org/issues/tpp,
(3) Curtis Bramble, president pro tem of the Utah Senate and chair of the Intellectual Property Subcommittee of the International Relations Task Force at the American Legislative Exchange Council present his opinion on why intellectual property rights should be strengthened in the TPP.