In keeping with a pledge he made on the campaign trail, Donald Trump signed an executive order effectively canceling the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal. While the Internet is currently in hysterics over Donald Trump’s activities over the last few days, the cancellation of TPP is one move that should delight all fans of the Internet worldwide.
What is TPP?
The trade deal between the Pacific Rim countries was meant to block China’s rising trade influence and bring developing economies in the Pacific Rim under US influence. At face value, major trade compacts like the TPP seemed like a good deal for the American economy, but in reality it became a 5,000 plus page document full of corporate giveaways and ambiguous legalese that was likely going to be renegotiated by whomever took office as president. (Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders stated their opposition to the deal)
One of those bullet points in the TPP that was especially irritating for those that seek to promote an open and free Internet was a portion that imposed US copyright law onto citizens in the other signatory countries and would mandate punishments including jail time for infringement of copyrights.
According to the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) the imposition of these copyright terms would have lead to:
- Excessive copyright terms which would deprive the public domain of the use of works for many years longer than is fair especially when the author of a work is unknown
- Loss of autonomy over digital purchases since tinkering with electronic devices is a crime
- The possible of criminal liability for use of a copyrighted work that is included in a video that goes viral
- Hamper the introduction of new user protections within copyright laws since interest groups could dispute new laws as an infringement onto their rights
- The possibility of frivolous law suits as copyright holders could use these laws to bankrupt competition without deep pockets
(If you really want to see how impactful this rule could have been, read more at the link above)
Why is this bad?
Imposing US copyright laws onto other countries wouldn’t be such a bad thing if the whole world was like the US. It is important to remember that not all the signatories to TPP have their own versions of First Amendment rights or even a rule of law. In the US, a defendant in a copyright law case can argue that their use of a work was protected under fair use. The case would be heard by a court that has experience in this area of law and has the knowledge to make educated decisions.
The same cannot be said for citizens of a country where not only might there be corruption and restrictions on speech, the penalties that TPP recommended to be imposed upon violators were beyond what anyone in the US would ever face for a similar violation. Long jail terms, asset forfeiture and excessive fines were all listed as potential penalties for copyright infringement.
This portion on copyrights was likely placed by lobbyists for Hollywood which struggle to restrict piracy outside of the US. Minimizing piracy and protecting the rights of artists is something many people can stand behind, but enforcing it in this way would have had collateral damage which would have reached far beyond simply piracy.
The TPP is now officially dead on arrival and creativity in developing economies can continue to thrive without the fear of excessive penalties waiting in the wings. For that the Internet should cheer.