Trade agreement campaign plans two-pronged approach

Public awareness campaign on the risks of Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement launched at NetHui

The Fair Deal campaign, launched yesterday evening against the background of InternetNZ's NetHui, aims to engage politicians on the risks of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement (TPPA) and alert the public at large to the potential effect on them.

Public awareness-raising will be achieved through four simple messages, illustrated with cartoons on e-postcards, to which concerned people can add their own tweet-sized comments. Once 5000 postcards have been accumulated they will be sent on to the ministers.

The Fair Deal campaign was drawn together a few months ago by a working group from internet policy, the arts, technology and the law, InternetNZ policy lead Susan Chalmers told the launch meeting, at the NetHui venue. It has since accreted around it representatives of a variety of economic and societal sectors who bring their own individual slant to the risks of TPPA for them.

Launch speakers included Neil Jarvis of the NZ Foundation of the Blind talking about how blind people will not be able legally to translate books to understandable formats such as Braille and speech without having to interfere with digital rights management mechanisms protected by TPPA. Such breaches are, moreover, likely to attract criminal penalties.

The text of the agreement’s intellectual property chapter as it stands, drafted largely by US negotiators, has been criticised as posing a risk to all internet users, by proposing to grant rights-holders the power to prohibit - or charge a fee for - temporary electronic copies of data. Such transient copies are the essence of the way the internet works. TPPA could “ride roughshod over” current protection for transient copies written into New Zealand’s Copyright Act, Chalmers says.

In practice, the continuation of this right could be ensured by micropayments to the rights-holders – expressed on one of the postcards as the image of “tollbooths on the internet”.

Other postcard messages refer to the likely extension of copyright terms to the lifetime of a work’s author plus 70 years; the withdrawal of parallel importing rights, potentially raising the price of a wide variety of imported goods; and the much-discussed threat of persistent downloading offenders being cut off from the internet.

NZRise co-chair Don Christie points to TPPA’s threat to allow overseas investors to overturn NZ legislation that threatens their income streams. Prominent here, as Computerworld has highlighted, is the Patents Bill’s exclusion of software from patentability. There is considerable lobbying from US sources to reverse this decision, and this is connected with the way the Patents Bill sits frozen in the same or declining place on Parliament’s order paper, Christie suggests.

Over-zealous patent protection, he says, will slow scientific research, which the government frequently points to as a major hope for the NZ economy.

In approaching politicians, negotiators and other influencers, it is important to be polite and constructive, not antagonistic, and to avoid extreme positions, such as opposing copyright or trade agreements in general, said Chalmers and seasoned lobbyist and blogger David Farrar. People disquieted by the effect of TPPA are advised to write to or meet with their local MP; the more MPs are made aware of the issue, the greater will be the influence on ministers.

These are not “geek issues” but issues for the ordinary citizen, says Farrar, and that should be made clear to politicians.

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Tags Trans-Pacific PartnershipNetHui

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