WikiLeaks Gets Copyright (And Civics 101) Wrong
WikiLeaks, doesn’t understand copyright – or the United States legislative process. The online repository for leaked documents, breathlessly announced that it had acquired the secret negotiated draft text for the entire TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) Intellectual Property Rights Chapter in advance of next week’s chief negotiators’ summit in Salt Lake City.
In WikiLeaks’ editor-in-chief Julian Assange’s words (WikiLeaks Press Release): “If instituted, the TPP’s IP regime would trample over individual rights and free expression, as well as ride roughshod over the intellectual and creative commons… If you read, write, publish, think, listen, dance, sing or invent; if you farm or consume food; if you’re ill now or might one day be ill, the TPP has you in its crosshairs.”
The Trans-Pacific Partnership Pact, once completed, will be a comprehensive trade pact governing trade relations between United States, Japan and 10 other Pacific Rim countries. Intellectual property is just one part of the wide-ranging document that has been through 19 negotiation rounds so far. The IP section covers multiple copyright issues.
At the outset, it’s important to keep in mind that the 95 page WikiLeaks document is old, and possibly quite outdated. It’s from the August negotiating round. It would be wrong to call it an authoritative document given the often tense negotiating that has continued over the fall.
Here’s what really wrong with WikiLeaks’ analysis: Producers of intellectual property need to be protected especially when their property is exported into foreign markets. A key point is the preservation of control over material that one produces. Here’s what Copyright Alliance Executive Director Sandra Aistars had to say:
“Wikileaks has it exactly backwards: strong copyright provisions benefit authors and individual expression because they empower artists, give them the freedom of choice as to how to use their voices and promote freedom of expression and the freedom to thrive. Weakening copyright protections for artists empowers only those who would like to do away with individual rights in favor of profits for those who neither create nor invest in the work.
Critics might argue over perspective, but WikiLeaks’ analysis of the political process is just flat-out wrong. WikiLeaks asserts that the negotiation process has been “shrouded in an unprecedented level of secrecy.” And…. well, that’s how negotiations are conducted, behind closed doors. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a discussion of trade issues, union contracts or Julian Assange’s extradition status. Negotiations are not open discussions.
TPP critics also argue that the treaty would require changes of existing U.S. IP law. Here’s where Civics 101 comes into it. Treaties must be ratified by the U.S. Senate. U.S. negotiators are not in a position to promise changes of U.S. law. Changes in any laws would have to be enacted by Congress prior to any ratification of a treaty. A treaty not in compliance with U.S. law could not be ratified by the United States.
WikiLeaks’ Assange also asserted, “The US administration is aggressively pushing the TPP through the US legislative process on the sly.” That’s just not possible. How do you push a treaty, which must be ratified, through the legislative process? It just can’t be done. The Senate must examine and vote on the treaty and it must be in compliance with U.S. law. To insist otherwise, at best, shows a complete lack of familiarity with the U.S. political system. At worst, it’s misinformation.