A secretive international trade treaty up for discussion next week could have far-reaching effects on Internet services, copyright law and civil liberties, a draft of the treaty obtained by Wikileaks suggests.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement's 95-page draft chapter on intellectual property highlights disagreements between the negotiating parties, often pitting the U.S. and Australia on the one hand against Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam on the other.
Intellectual property rights (IPR) typically refers to patents, copyrights, trademarks and trade secrets. The countries are fighting over rules that could extend the duration of copyright, limit exceptions to copyright, raise the level of damages for breaking technical protection measures such as digital rights management, and strengthen patents for drugs, medical procedures and living organisms.
"If instituted, the TPP's IP regime would trample over individual rights and free expression, as well as ride roughshod over the intellectual and creative commons. If you read, write, publish, think, listen, dance, sing or invent; if you farm or consume food; if you're ill now or might one day be ill, the TPP has you in its crosshairs," said Wikileaks editor in chief Julian Assange in a statement accompanying the treaty text.
Knowledge Ecology International (KEI), a group lobbying for fairer distribution of information that has taken a close interest in the TPP and other trade treaties, also dislikes the draft text.
"The document confirms fears that the negotiating parties are prepared to expand the reach of intellectual property rights, and shrink consumer rights and safeguards. Compared to existing multilateral agreements, the TPP IPR chapter proposes the granting of more patents, the creation of intellectual property rights on data, the extension of the terms of protection for patents and copyrights, expansions of right holder privileges, and increases in the penalties for infringement," KEI director James Love wrote on the group's website.
TPP has in some respects served as a model for the more recent negotiations of a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the U.S. and the European Union. It draws some of its more controversial intellectual property provisions from the earlier Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which despite ongoing support from the U.S. and Japan is largely stalled since the European Commission abandoned efforts to ratify it last December.
On Oct. 17 chief negotiators from the 12 states party to the TTP said in a joint statement that they had "made significant progress in recent months on all the legal texts and annexes" and had set the objective of completing the agreement this year. Among its goals are "the deepest and broadest possible liberalization of trade and investment," they said. The treaty will set "pioneering standards for new trade disciplines, as a model for future trade agreements", in particular with other Asia-Pacific countries. The negotiators claimed that "Stakeholders across the region have provided valuable input to TPP negotiating teams" but the negotiations have been conducted behind a veil of secrecy, with few opportunities for outsiders to study the working draft of the treaty.
Even now, it's hard to say what will be up for discussion in Salt Lake City on Nov. 19. The leaked text published by Wikileaks late Wednesday is not the one TPP chief negotiators will work on there, but rather a draft resulting from the August round of TPP talks in Brunei, according to Wikileaks. Since then, two more rounds of negotiations have been held, likely resulting in further modifications to the draft.
This is not the first leak of the TTP's intellectual property chapter, according to KEI. Its website offers an earlier version from February 2011, together with U.S. proposals for selected provisions on intellectual property from September of that year and a fragment of the text on copyright limitations and exceptions from August 2012.
Peter Sayer covers open source software, European intellectual property legislation and general technology breaking news for IDG News Service. Send comments and news tips to Peter at email@example.com.