Why IP should be kept out of TAFTA

TAFTAIP doesn’t only stand for Internet Protocol but also for Intellectual Property. For a very long time intellectual property was safely captured through copyright and patent acts. But increasingly 19th and 20th century’s copyright and patent legislation is out of sync with an IT reality that enables copying and distributing at the speed of light. Established large industries who have bet their business on executing their IP rights are fighting a pitched  battle. At the same time governments seem unable to address the increasingly hot IP potato. For this reason industry lobby groups  are constantly trying to extend and enforce existing laws on patent and copyright. With mixed success. Governments generally listen to these groups and have been generous in pushing the IP envelope. But in the US SOPA and PIPA failed while in the EU ACTA was put down in parliament. These battles were lost but the war continues. The next effort is TAFTA: Trans Atlantic Free Trade Agreement.

Mind, there is a lot to say for free trade if only because of potential efficiencies and lower prices that businesses and consumers can benefit from, including potential positive job effects. So yes let’s have that Free Trade part. Unfortunately preliminary notes on this agreement involve the intention to include a “high level of intellectual property protection, including enforcement.” This means in short that the IP soap opera is in full swing again.

There are good reasons why IP should be left out of the Free Trade treaty. First of all, since it will be a treaty we can only sign at the bottom. The concept of a treaty is such that negotiations are mostly done behind closed doors and therefore are non-transparent. Once negotiations are done, parliaments can only say yes or no. The public involvement in such a treaty is very much biased towards existing industries’ pressure groups but the consequences are felt by everyone else.

Secondly, once the treaty is signed a country will have to live up to the agreement. This may imply changing national laws. This will cause strong debates but stepping out of the treaty is not an option.

What it boiles down to is that the treaty is used to toughen national IP law without public involvement. The initial draft of the TAFTA did not include IP. But industry parties have recognized the opportunity to set the gold standard for IP much the same as in the TPP (Trance Pacific Partnership). It is easy to see that the result could very well be the toughest of both (US and EU) IP regimes combined. This could potentially harm freedom of speech, limit access to education, health and stifle innovation.

IP never was a sexy topic but as information technology exerts its impact on society every day it is time for politics to design 21st century legislation on IP. With 3D printing on the verge of a breakthrough IP will become an even more pressing issue. However settling IP should not be dealt with behind closed doors but be debated in the open at appropriate platforms, involving a much broader and diverse  segment of society.

Let us know how you think IP should be treated

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About Marcel Warmerdam