The European Parliament overwhelmingly defeated an international anti-piracy trade agreement on Wednesday after concern that it would limit Internet freedom sparked street protests in cities across Europe.
The vote – 39 in favour, 478 against, with 165 abstentions – appeared to deal the death blow to the European Union’s participation in a treaty it helped negotiate, though other countries may still participate without the EU.
I think this shows the strength of global opposition to unbalanced copyright regimes, as pushed by the US entertainment industry. But to have barely 5% of the European Parliament vote in favour is incredible, especially when you consider the details of ACTA.
The failure to ratify the treaty is a humiliation for the European Union, which was one of the prime movers in the multi-year effort to negotiate the agreement. EU officials had maintained that ACTA would change nothing in European law, but would be simply an instance of the EU leading by example and exporting its strong copyright protection laws to other countries where safeguards are weaker.
This is the astonishing thing. The final version of ACTA was in fact relatively benign. The draft versions pushed by the US had some draconian provisions, but the New Zealand Government, and other Governments, insisted that there be nothing in there that would require a significant change to our copyright laws. Eventually the US backed down, and the final version is, well as I said, fairly benign.
What New Zealand politicians should reflect on is if even a relatively benign copyright agreement such as ACTA can provoke such opposition that only 5% of the European Parliament will vote for it, think what electoral fate would await politicians who vote for a truly horrendous copyright regime?
The New Zealand Government is currently negotiating the TPP agreement with the US and a dozen or so other countries. The draft US chapter on intellectual property laws and especially copyright is even worse than the draft ACTA chapter was – and exponentially worse than the final ACTA agreement. Think the difference between a poodle and a pack of African Wild Dogs. Rick Shera summarised it here:
- Rights holders would be allowed to prevent parallel imports
- Massive extension of copyright terms, from life of author plus 50 years, to 70 years
- Circumventing a Technological Protection Measure (TPM) will to be a criminal offence even if the work it protects is in the public domain
- The return of s92A guilt on accusation, repeat infringer, termination of internet accounts
- Forcing us to reverse the decison recently taken to exclude software patents
- Introducing statutory damages (which give rights holders windfall damages up to 3 times their actual losses)
- ISP policing of IP rights incuding a requirement for ISPs to give up their customers’ identities when they receive a mere allegation
- Criminal liability even where the infringement has no commercial value at all
- Pushing Courts to impose imprisonment as the default sentence for infringement even where no monetary benefit is obtained
The US IP chapter would also see Internet caching effectively made illegal. It really is that bad.
Now the good news is that as with ACTA, the New Zealand Government has been resisting the US IP chapter, as have most other countries. This is a good thing. I am personally a fan of free trade agreements and would love the TPP to be concluded reducing trade barriers. But not if the price is agreeing to the US IP chapter.
TPP is more difficult than ACTA. In ACTA, New Zealand was not really seeking anything in return – so it was easy to stay firm. In the TPP, all countries have wish lists, so it is inevitable that at some stage there may be some compromises made at a senior political level.
The clear message to the United States has to be that if even a benign copyright agreement such as ACTA can’t get agreement and ratification, then they have to realise that there is no way the TPP can include the IP chapter they are pushing. It would be an electoral suicide pact.
Even in the US itself, unbalanced copyright laws have been turning toxic. SOPA and PIPA got voted down in Congress. Every single Republican Presidential candidate denounced them.
I am not one of those people who are anti-copyright. I am all for there being penalties for people who copy a song/book/movie rather than pay for it. But the laws need to be balanced, and they need to not screw over the Internet.