ArtsWatch: Trans-Pacific Tussle

Leaks of secret TPP agreement don't satisfy Net activists' calls for transparency
May 21, 2012 -- 7:12 am PDT
By Philip Merrill / GRAMMY.com

In recent news ...

On May 15 Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) released a previously leaked intellectual property negotiation document for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement on his KeepTheWebOpen.com site. Siding with Internet rights advocates' insistence that plans for copyright law enforcement remain open to public comment, a statement on the website read, "As we have learned from SOPA, PIPA and [the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement], the public has a strong desire for the Federal government to engage in an open and collaborative process on matters impacting the Internet." The site invited comments on ACTA back in March. The music and movie industries have already taken it on the nose from the Internet, its activists and users who disregard copyright law. Now it seems the routine secrecy of international diplomatic negotiations about the Internet or copyright enforcement may be forced into a more open forum. The House SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and Senate PIPA (PROTECT IP) legislation were public, and ACTA's language was made public in 2010, but the leaked IP section of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement's February 2011 draft is labeled as classified. This conventional secrecy is itself under attack by Internet rights advocates. On May 16 the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative praised progress on the agreement's language among the nine partners, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam at their recently concluded meeting and also praised the stakeholder engagement efforts that were held in conjunction. Consumer advocates Public Knowledge, who maintain the site TPPInfo.org, hosted a May 11 luncheon roundtable event and presented during a May 12 tabling event. Expressing their dissatisfaction, the group said, "Based on Public Knowledge's conversations with USTR representatives ... we simply cannot continue to trust that the USTR is actually listening to public input." America's intellectual property community strongly supports the TPP Agreement and 33 leading groups — including Copyright Alliance, MPAA, NMPA, and the RIAA — collaborated to write a letter to President Barack Obama on May 8 stressing the role TPP should play in meeting the need for better IP enforcement. U.S. diplomats and IP owners' interests will be forced to contend with Internet rights advocates and their political supporters when TPP negotiations resume in San Diego on July 2, with a Stakeholder Engagement Forum scheduled for opening day. Creative livelihoods continue to be harmed by international content infringement, the need for better enforcement is urgent, and time is short for IP advocates to evolve an effective approach to counter critics.

The latest attack on ACTA was in the form of a May 16 letter from 50 leading law scholars to the members of the Senate Finance Committee, arguing that Senate approval is a required constitutional element for the United States to enter into the agreement. The group of scholars, including Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Lessig, said, "The Administration currently lacks a means to Constitutionally enter ACTA without ex post Congressional approval." This argument is bound to be well received by committee member Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who proposed similar legislative language in March as an amendment to the JOBS Act. Putting the current state of affairs in an extremely harsh light, the Electronic Frontier Foundation said, "USTR was acting on a folly when it negotiated and signed ACTA." Although ACTA began during the preceding Republican administration, politicians could be attracted to this reasoning to criticize President Obama for exceeding his office's constitutional authority.

On May 14 Ajit Varadaraj Pai and Jessica Rosenworcel were sworn in as the newest Federal Communications Commission commissioners, just in time to testify at the May 16 Senate Commerce Committee oversight hearing. Committee chairman Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said, "It is a pleasure to welcome our witnesses today — all five members of the Federal Communications Commission. I want to say a special word of welcome to the two newest members of the FCC — commissioners Rosenworcel and Pai. You are both excellent additions to the commission, and I know your colleagues share my enthusiasm for having you on board."

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers is expected to reopen its online application for generic top-level domain names on May 22. A technical glitch caused it to be closed early on April 12, which was originally expected to be the last day to apply for the right to register new domain names with custom suffixes. The application window is now expected to close on May 30. Approximately 2,300 applications have been submitted so far.

On May 10 EMI Music released a statement reporting it will move forward with its copyright infringement lawsuit against music cyberlocker MP3tunes.com despite the news, earlier the same day, that the online service had filed for bankruptcy late last month. The litigation began in 2007 and reached a summary judgment milestone last summer. MP3tunes.com's founder Michael Robertson — best known for having founded MP3.com — said, "Four and a half years of legal costs and we're not even out of trial. ... This is what they do. The labels engage in multiyear legal battles and put small companies through hell for years."

Four members of the online piracy collective Imagine Group were indicted last month and on May 9 one defendant pleaded guilty in eastern Virginia's U.S. District Court to conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement. The group especially targeted movies in theaters prior to DVD release.

On May 15 the Business Software Alliance announced the results of its latest global software piracy study. The estimated value of unlicensed software is a record total of more than $63 billion, driven by personal computer users in emerging markets such as China. Worldwide, 57 percent of PC consumers use pirated software.

The Recording Academy actively represents the music community on such issues as intellectual property rights, music piracy, archiving and preservation, and censorship concerns. In pursuing its commitment to addressing these and other issues, The Recording Academy undertakes a variety of national initiatives. ArtsWatch is a key part of an agenda aimed at raising public awareness of and support for the rights of artists. To become more involved, visit Advocacy Action @ GRAMMY.com and sign up for Advocacy Action E-lerts.

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