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FSF speaks against patent and DRM provisions at Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiators' meeting

by Brett Smith Contributions Published on Sep 16, 2011 04:58 PM
The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) is a free trade agreement currently under negotiation that could require member countries to enact strict copyright and patent legislation that hurts free software users and developers. Our license compliance engineer Brett Smith talked about the FSF's opposition to these terms with negotiators last weekend; in this blog post, he shares his perspective on the event.

TPP is being negotiated between nine countries that border the Pacific: Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States of America, and Vietnam. While the official text is being kept secret, a leaked draft and other reports indicate that the United States intends to use TPP as another opportunity to spread its draconian copyright and patent laws around the world.

TPP may include several provisions that require member countries to pass legislation that harms or hampers free software development:

  • expanding the scope of patents to cover any process with industrial applications—likely including software,

  • making it illegal to use or share software or other information that might circumvent Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) on copyrighted works,

  • forcing everyone who registers an Internet domain name to provide accurate legal contact information, and

  • imposing harsh enforcement schemes for these provisions, as well as existing copyright, patent, and trademark law.

The United States Trade Representative hosted a TPP Stakeholder Forum in Chicago last weekend, where interested individuals, companies, and nonprofit organizations made brief presentations to express their concerns and offer policy suggestions to negotiators. I spoke for the FSF to help those negotiators better understand what free software is, how it's been hurt by software patents and the anti-circumvention provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) here in the United States, and why TPP should not mandate similar rules in other member countries.

I would've been happy to talk further about other problems in TPP, but with only a twenty-minute speaking slot, I needed to focus on the most pressing issues. Thankfully, other speakers addressed many of these in their own presentations. I saw Abigail Phillips from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Krista Cox from Knowledge Ecology International, and James Boyle of Duke University all point out different areas where US law may not be as strict as what's being proposed for TPP, how the public has benefited from even those narrow limitations, and could do better with fewer legal restrictions rather than more.

Of course, the usual proponents for these laws came to make their own case as well. Gary Kissinger from the MPAA gave the presentation before mine, repeating the same sorts of unfounded numbers we've heard from them before about supposed economic harm caused by illegal movie distribution.

I'm hopeful that our concerns are being heard—I fielded some smart questions from negotiators after my presentation—but we're still watching TPP very carefully. At the forum's wrap-up session, US representatives indicated that they intend to continue negotiations behind closed doors, and are bullheaded on copyright and patent issues. We'll keep using opportunities like this to raise our opposition to such terms in TPP and other trade agreements.

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