More than 25 tech companies — including Happy Mutants, LLC, Boing Boing's parent company — have signed onto a letter asking Senator Ron Wyden (chairman of the Senate Finance Committee) to oppose "Fast Track" for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The TPP is a secretly negotiated trade agreement that allows for big corporations to trump national law, suing governments that pass regulations that limit their profits; it contains a notoriously harsh chapter on Internet regulation that will allow entertainment companies unprecedented power to surveil, censor, and control the Internet.
The US Trade Representative and the Obama administration have demanded that Congress give "Fast Track" status to the TPP, meaning that they would not be allowed to debate the individual clauses of the bill, and would only be able to vote it up or down. The treaty is likely to have lots of sweeteners that will make it hard for key lawmakers to reject it entirely, a manipulative maneuver that, combined with Fast Track, means that the treaty has a substantial chance of passing, even though it means Congress will be surrendering its power to make laws that impact on massive corporations.
Other signatories to the letter include Reddit, Techdirt, Imgur, Duckduckgo, Ifixit, Cheezburger, Automattic (WordPress), and many others.
Based on what we've seen in leaked copies of the proposed text, we are particularly concerned about the U.S. Trade Representative's proposals around copyright enforcement. Dozens of digital rights organizations and tens of thousands of individuals have raised alarm over provisions that would bind treaty signatories to inflexible digital regulations that undermine free speech. Based on the fate of recent similar measures, it is virtually certain that such proposals would face serious scrutiny if proposed at the domestic level or via a more transparent process. Anticipated elements such as harsher criminal penalties for minor, non-commercial copyright infringements, a 'take-down and ask questions later' approach to pages and content alleged to breach copyright, and the possibility of Internet providers having to disclose personal information to authorities without safeguards for privacy will chill innovation and significantly restrict users' freedoms online.
Some aspects of U.S. copyright law, such as the DMCA's safe harbor provisions, have helped foster the vibrant tech industry in this country. But in other areas, we are due for major reforms—a fact made clear by Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante's call for the "Next Great Copyright Act" and the House Judiciary Committee's efforts to implement that reform. In light of these needed revisions, the U.S. system cannot be crystallized as the international norm and should not be imposed on other nations. It is crucial that we maintain the flexibility to re-evaluate and reform our legal framework in response to new technological realities. Ceding national sovereignty over critical issues like copyright is not in the best interest of any of the potential signatories of this treaty.
We can only build a successful innovation policy framework—one that supports new ideas, products, and markets—if the process to design it is open and participatory. Unfortunately, the trade negotiation process has been anything but transparent. Our industry, and the users that we serve, need to be at the table from the beginning to design policies that serve more than the narrow commercial interests of the few large corporations who have been invited to participate.
We urge you not to pass any version of Fast Track or trade promotion authority, or approve any mechanism that would facilitate the passage of trade agreements containing digital copyright enforcement provisions designed in an opaque, closed-door process.