news Australian political parties and digital rights lobby groups today erupted in outrage after a Wikileaks leak of the intellectual property rights chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement revealed Australians could be slugged with new draconian measures if caught infringing copyright online.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a secretive, multi-national trade agreement that threatens to extend what many see restrictive intellectual property (IP) laws across the globe and rewrite international rules on its enforcement. A number of major countries are currently negotiating the agreement, including the US, Japan, Australia, Peru, Malaysia, Vietnam, New Zealand, Chile, Singapore, Canada, Mexico, and Brunei Darussalam.
Leaked draft texts of the agreement have previously shown that the intellectual property chapter would have extensive ramifications for users’ freedom of speech rights, right to privacy and due process, and could hinder innovation. The process of the TPP negotiations has been shrouded in secrecy and the full text of drafts of the proposed agreement has never been publicly released.
Last month the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade took the extraordinary step of rescinding confirmations of attendance for journalists who had registered to attend a public briefing on the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement in Sydney, stating that the meeting was “off-the-record”, and that journalists are not welcome.”
Overnight, Wikileaks published a leaked draft of the intellectual property chapter of the TPP. It reveals, among a number of other moves to tighten countries’ IP regulations, that those caught conducting copyright infringement activities online (‘Internet piracy’) could face criminal charges.
The leak caused instant outrage in Australia, with a wide range of groups active in digital rights issues raising an outcry regarding the stipulations of the trade agreement.
“CHOICE is deeply concerned at a proposal from the United States to expand criminal liability for copyright infringement. This would mean that domestic non-commercial infringement could become a criminal act,” said Alan Kirkland, chief executive of consumer advocacy group CHOICE, in a statement issued this morning. “While CHOICE condemns copyright infringement, we certainly don’t agree that an individual downloading Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones for personal use should be open to criminal prosecution.”
And it’s not just piracy criminalisation Australians should be concerned about.
“The United States appears to be proposing a raft of measures that would be disastrous for Australian consumers if they made the final text,” said Kirkland. “This includes a ban on parallel importation, which involves purchasing products from overseas retailers and shipping them to Australia.”
Kirkland noted that CHOICE was also disappointed that Australians had to rely on leaked copies of the draft trade agreement to be informed on its stipulations. “On behalf of our members and consumers more broadly, CHOICE wants to have input into this wide-reaching agreement. Ideally, this would be through open debate,” the executive said. “We renew our call on the Australian government to move towards transparency by allowing consumers to see drafts of the TPP.”
The Greens today flagged plans to take parliamentary action regarding the TPP draft. “The Australian Greens have given notice that they will move a motion in the Senate, when it next sits on December 2nd, to end the secrecy around the TPPA trade talks,” the party noted in a statement issued by Senators Scott Ludlam and Peter Whish-Wilson.
“We have one piece of the TPPA puzzle, and it is chilling,” said Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson. “The Greens will move for the rest of the document to be made public to the Parliament and the Australian people, before the Government signs up to something we will regret … “Tony Abbott must end the secrecy and hidden agendas that have defined his Government.”
Digital rights lobby group Electronic Frontiers Australia accused the Federal Government of selling out Australians to foreign interests again.
“EFA considers the leaked Intellectual Property chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership to represent looming disaster for Australian citizens,” wrote EFA board member Sean Rintel in a statement issued today. “Not only are the secret negotiations deplorable, as is Australia’s almost total agreement with the US positions, but if passed, its provisions will severely restrict choice, increase prices, and reduce freedom of expression.”
And the Pirate Party Australia issued its own furious statement on the TPP.
“This corporate wishlist masquerading as a trade agreement is bad for access to knowledge, access to medicine, and access to innovation. It re-enforces the worst parts of our intellectual property enforcement regime on a regional level, making the necessary positive reforms for the digital era much more difficult, if not impossible,” said Brendan Molloy, Councillor of Pirate Party Australia.
“It is absolutely appalling that we are still relying on leaked texts to determine just what we’re getting ourselves into with these trade agreements. Even Parliament is being kept in the dark. It’s time to release the text, and all future texts, so that transparency and oversight can result in texts that help, not hinder, legitimate Australian interests. There is no economic justification for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement’s intellectual property provisions. DFAT must immediately hold public briefings to explain their now public negotiating positions. It’s time for some accountability.”
Prime Minister Tony Abbott was quoted in an article published by The Age newspaper this morning as saying: ” … there’s always horse-trading in these negotiations, but in the end … everyone is better off”. The previous Labor Federal Government also largely supported the TPP negotiations.