by Patrick McGuire
Remember SOPA? Remember how when we the people finally defeated SOPA everyone got so stoked that confetti poured out of their eyeballs and its opponents downloaded films and albums and pirated video games in celebration? Well, shortly after SOPA there was CISPA—the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act—a bill that is both scarier than Zombies and much less well known than SOPA .
On April 18, three days after the Boston Marathon bombing, CISPA passed in the House of Representatives. Obama’s White House has expressed “fundamental concerns” about CISPA. They are justifiably a bit turned off by how CISPA doesn’t specify precisely how it intends to spy on the internet—and when it is ok to spy on internet users—and that is a terrifying prospect.
As a Canadian, these American “mess up the internet” bills have always been disconcerting. While Canadian sovereignty would ideally save anyone who lives in this country and errs on the wrong side of a SOPA or a CISPA—with so much internet traffic filtering through American-owned web servers—it is not out of the question that American jurisdiction could be called against an international cyber-offender. The state of Virginia, for example, claimed jurisdiction against the Hong Kong-owned Megaupload who was hosting their website in that state.
But now it appears that it’s going to be even easier for international copyright offenders to be tried in court by the interests–and lobbying power–of Hollywood. Starting today, 11 countries—Canada, America, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Vietnam, Singapore, Japan, Brunei, Malaysia, Australia, and New Zealand—are having a secret (no members of the public and no press) meeting in Lima, Peru to figure out what can be done about copyright offenders who transmit Hollywood’s precious content over the interweb’s tubes without paying for it.
The meeting is held under the banner of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement. They’re looking to sign an international treaty that will create world government-esque laws to handle anyone who downloads an early leak of Iron Man 3 illegally.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation is calling this the “biggest global threat to the internet since ACTA.” If you remember, ACTA (the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) is an international, internet-policing treaty that was shut down by the European Parliament with a 92 percent nay vote. Luckily for Europeans, no EU country is anywhere near the TPP negotiations in Peru right now—and European politicians are now quick to distance themselves from the policies that ACTA is trying to ram down the world’s throat.
But in North America, the ACTA movement is still very much alive. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government passed a bill in March that makes Canada more ACTA-friendly by allowing customs officers to destroy counterfeit goods and ratcheting up the criminal penalties against copyright offenders. And the United States has seized hip-hop blog domains without warning or trial, because they were alleged to host pirated material.
A leaked chapter outlining some preliminary discussion to re-examine intellectual property has revealed that TPP wants to add further checks and balances to restrict fair use. Those behind TPP want to make sure that if a teacher is trying to show some copyrighted material in their class for the purpose of education, or if a humorist using copyrighted material in an article for the purpose of satire, they’re doing so under what TPP calls a “good faith activity.”
The language in this leaked TPP chapter is incredibly dense and dates back to February 2011—so not only is it a confusing bit of writing, but it will also likely be revised over and over during this meeting in Peru. As it stands, the EFF is worried that “the United States is trying to export the worst parts of its intellectual property law without bringing any of the [fair use] protections.” And just like SOPA or CISPA, many people are concerned that the broad language in new legal terms like “good faith activity” will potentially lead to unjust prosecutions.
It may take a while before the results of this TPP meeting in Peru filter out to the press, but it’s crystal clear that even though SOPA died, the Hollywood lobby is more than willing to generate new legislation and international partnerships to protect its interests. SOPA, for a combination of reasons, incited the ire of the public. We saw SOPA blackouts where websites like Reddit and Wikipedia went offline for a day, celebrities spoke out against it on Twitter; there was a bona fide cultural movement.
But now, the language behind international efforts like ACTA or TPP is getting more and more obscure, the reporting on such efforts less and less frequent, and the meetings being held to define these treaties are being held behind closed doors. The wheels of government are moving quickly to restrict international copyright online as much as possible—with the lobby of Hollywood thrusting it forward—in order to preserve the profits of content gatekeepers like the RIAA and MPAA.