The TPP Cometh: Tyranny by Trade Deal

09/12/2012

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by James Corbett
BoilingFrogsPost.com
September 11, 2012

When SOPA and PIPA, the House and Senate bills to impose draconian regulations on the internet in the name of “protecting intellectual property rights” broke through into public awareness late last year, it caused an immediate, widespread, grassroots protest movement to rise up. With some of the biggest websites on the internet staging a one-day blackout to raise awareness of the legislation, millions were mobilized against it. So loud was the opposition to these bills that they were postponed on the legislative agenda and effectively killed off.

The lesson was a valuable one on several levels. Firstly, it demonstrated that even a corrupt, fundamentally broken system like the U.S. congress still needs at least the pretense of public support to forward its legislative agenda, and that the people, when adequately informed and mobilized, can derail that agenda. More soberly, it also demonstrated that the battle against the special interests that are lobbying for this agenda is certain to be a war of attrition. At the time, many analysts, myself included, warned that the death of SOPA and PIPA was not the death of tyrannical IP legislation altogether, and that the same interests would regroup under another banner again and again until their wishes were hardwired into law.

Soon after, that warning was realized as the public suddenly became aware of ACTA, a multinational treaty to establish intellectual property enforcement standards among a group of industrialized nations. Once again, the call to action was sounded, and this time it was the Europeans who heeded that call, with activists staging protests, petitions and awareness campaigns from Poland to Slovenia to Sweden. Once again, a crisis was averted as the ratification of the treaty in its signatory states, which seemed a virtual certainty before the protests, became an uphill battle for ACTA’s proponents, effectively stalling the deal in its tracks. Still, the very nature of the deal, made it more difficult to combat. As a treaty, it could bypass the legislatures of many of its signatory states, almost removing the public from the debate altogether. As a result, protest was less coordinated and less effective than it had been against SOPA and PIPA.

Now, many of the same issues are on the table yet again. This time the culprit is another impenetrable acronym, “TPP” or the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Negotiations on this multinational trade deal have been underway for years, but taking place completely behind closed doors, meaning the only understanding we have of what is contained in the deal comes from leaked copies of draft negotiation documents. This deal, like ACTA, seeks to create a standardized regulatory framework for dealing with Intellectual Property issues,as well as other trade related issues between a range of Pacific nations. And it has so far flown almost completely under the radar.

Last month I had the chance to talk to Nile Bowie, an independent journalist and photographer based in Malaysia, about the treaty and its provisions.

For years, the treaty negotions have been taking place under total secrecy. The public was not allowed to know what terms were being discussed because, as US trade representative Ron Kirk argued, public disclosure had killed trade deals in the past, like the Rockefeller-backed Free Trade Area of the Americas. By this logic, the less the public knows about what their so-called representatives are doing, the happier everyone will be.

So far, everything we know about what has been discussed so far come from documents that have been leaked to the public by concerned officials behind the scenes. These leaks have confirmed the public’s worst fears about what provisions the treaty contains.

One of the organizations that has been fighting to bring awareness and transparency to the TPP process is the Electronic Frontier Foundation at EFF.org. They are currently hosting the leaked negotiation documents and are covering the ongoing negotiations in the face of a virtual media blackout.

Last week Maira Sutton, International IP Coordinator for the EFF, joined me on Corbett Report Radio to discuss some of the treaty’s most worrying provisions.

The latest round of TPP negotiations are currently taking place in Leesburg, Virginia, and are scheduled to continue until September 15th. So far there has been nothing approaching the type of awareness or protests surrounding this deal that there was around SOPA and PIPA or even ACTA. With each battle in this ongoing war of attrition, it seems that the public is becoming more confused, lethargic and apathetic. Faced with a bewildering array of bills, treaties and trade deals, each obscured behind its own bland acronym, it seems that the powerful corporate interests who are lobbying for ever-greater restrictions on the internet are using the public’s collective attention deficit disorder to their advantage, and are closer than ever to achieving their goal of hardwiring draconian free speech clampdowns into law under the guise of protecting intellectual property.

As unsatisfying as it may be, surely the public must continue to inform itself of these issues and must maintain the momentum of opposition to movement on the IP front. Like any war of attrition, the only sure fire way to lose is to stop fighting. But in the long-term, a public that is constantly “fighting back” against the assault of a powerful, well-funded corporate lobby will never be able to evolve out of the current intellectual property paradigm that is the root cause of this mess after all.

Ironically, in the long term the real hope for the general public is the very internet that the corporations are seeking to suppress. Empowered by a medium that makes the worldwide distribution of independently-produced art, music, video and news possible for the first time in human history, we are as a society on the cusp of completely circumventing the Hollywood / music label / publishing industry / big media death grip on our news and entertainment. This is the real reason that DVD and CD sales are declining so precipitously; not piracy, but apathy. Who wants to buy a subscription to Time magazine when you can buy a subscription to Boiling Frogs Post? Who wants to support a major music label when you can directly support an independent musician making music that would never be played on corporate radio? This is the secret that the corporations don’t want us to contemplate: that their end is nearer than we think.

In the final equation, perhaps the real war is not the war against the IP provisions that the multinationals are trying to lay down into law. Perhaps it is the copyright paradigm that has allowed these corporations to flourish. If so, then the most effective way for the public to once again gain the upper hand is to support the independent producers of open, creative commons licensed media, and to simply withdraw our support from the old media paradigm altogether.

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