Jordan Carter: Hands off our right to share digital information

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

The leaked text from the Trans Pacific Partnership Intellectual Property Chapter confirms fears that the agreement would reduce New Zealanders' access to information and restrict our ability to innovate, both on and offline, if a number of the draft copyright provisions were agreed.

If the provisions, as proposed by the United States, are accepted, then New Zealanders would be severely limiting opportunities to innovate, remix, create and distribute content. Internet users and businesses will face higher copyright costs and reduced access to content. In short, we would be trading away our country's digital future, and locking in agricultural exports as the only source of trade growth.

Any copyright provisions agreed to in the TPP must safeguard our ability to develop flexible digital policy in our own national interests. It is not for foreign corporations to write domestic law for New Zealand, but that is how these copyright proposals have come about.

Global trade agreements should be encouraging countries to promote a rich public domain, not require them to shrink it. History has shown that innovation blossoms from the sharing of works. Not fencing them in. The proposed provisions in the TPP would require longer copyright terms for works. There are hundreds of millions of works, of many kinds, protected under copyright. Only a small percentage of these have long-term commercial value. Copyright terms that are too long can discourage access to information and innovation and inadvertently prevent the rediscovery of out-of-print or unused works.

Trading copyright works throughout the world can be impeded by parallel importation restrictions.

The draft provisions in the TPP would require such restrictions. These enable producers of copyrighted works to charge different prices in different markets for the same item, increasing the price and decreasing the availability of content for consumers. We were under the impression that the TPP was designed to lower trade barriers, not raise them. If we give in to the US corporate-led demands, we risk losing a lot more than we gain. New Zealand had its battle with parallel imports. It should be put to bed now, because it's through cheaper parallel imports that New Zealanders have been able to benefit from global technological improvements, at a price that we can afford.

There are other smaller and yet just as negative proposals in the leaked chapter. Fair and genuine uses of copyright works should not be blocked by digital locks, but the leaked TPP provisions would protect these locks well beyond what the Copyright Act requires today. Increasingly, laws relating to these digital locks ("technological protection measures" or TPMs) are conflicting with uses of copyright works otherwise allowed. TPM laws for the 21st century should be able to adapt to a rapidly evolving digital environment and allow fair uses of works, not behave as an anachronistic stranglehold on innovation.

Access to the internet should be promoted as fundamental to participating in 21st century society. Trade agreements must not require termination of internet access for infringement of copyright, but the draft TPP provisions would require New Zealand to do just that. The United Nations has recognised the importance of the internet to human rights. Termination of access to a household or business would cut off occupants from education, employment, social engagement, health services and government information.

The Government and the New Zealand negotiating team should be applauded for standing up to the big boys so far. It is no surprise that Australia has sided with the United States on these issues. They were locked into a free-trade agreement with the US in 2004, and it has provided them with almost no material benefit - and come at great cost.

When the expected deadline approaches, our Government must not give in to international pressure and sell New Zealand's digital future down the river.

* For more on the international Fair Deal coalition go to:

Jordan Carter is chief executive of InternetNZ, which is part of the Fair Deal coalition.

- NZ Herald

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