This morning, Wikileaks released a draft chapter of the ultra-secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) treaty, an international politico-coporate policy agreement masquerading as trade partnership. Much like Canada’s other major ongoing “trade” negotiation, the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA), the forces behind the text of TPP have undergone significant efforts to conceal from the public what, exactly, the thrust & force of the thing will be; it is largely thanks to whistleblower organizations like Wikileaks that we have any insight at all into what dark material our masters have wrought.
Today’s revelations pertain to one of TPP’s most controversial strains, intellectual property (IP) rights, particularly w/r/t the internet. Those who have been following IP news in recent years will remember the near-defeat of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) & the breathlessly named Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act, (PIPA) in the United States, so defeated because of largely grass-roots opposition led by the cyber communities galvanized by Anonymous, & Internet domain companies such as Tumblr, Mozilla, Techdirt & others.
The worst policies of the near-defunct SOPA & PIPA have been assimilated into the text of TPP, but unlike those Acts, which are distinctly American (albeit with obvious ramifications for Canada), the TPP is mulitnational in scope, & thereby supersedes sovereign control over IP laws. Though the treaty will eventually have to be referred to Parliament for ratification, the dilemma is the same as that of the Conservative’s mammoth omnibus Bill C-45; recall that the IP chapter released by Wikileaks today is alone 30 000 words long, & only one chapter among many. This is not conducive meaningful debate. MP’s will naturally have to prioritize, & so dilute the full force of various amendments. It is a classic instance of Harperian divide-&-conquer.
The language of TPP is dense & difficult. Among the scariest of the IP’ chapter’s provisions are for, according the Wikileaks press release,
supranational litigation tribunals to which sovereign national courts are expected to defer, but which have no human rights safeguards. The TPP IP Chapter states that these courts can conduct hearings with secret evidence. The IP Chapter also replicates many of the surveillance and enforcement provisions from the shelved SOPA and ACTA [Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement] treaties[.]
Others include placing enormous burdens of liability onto internet service providers (ISPs); this means that if you, the user, are accused of IP violations, your service can be suspended, directly from your provider. Moreover, the definitions of what constitutes such a violation are so granular as to be virtually absurd – even so-called “buffering copies” (temporary files made when you, for instance, email a video, song, or document to a friend or colleague) would, under TPP, be considered online piracy.
This is good news for multinational media companies like Disney, but for the actual consumers – & for creators of independent media, such as indie musicians & videographers – it virtually hamstrings their ability to share art, create work, promote themselves. YouTube, for example, would become a veritable wasteland – that, or so inundated with new, near-mandatory advertizing so as to be unwatchable.
TPP’s IP chapter does not deal exlusively with internet property rights, but also more tangible things like patents. Particularly w/r/t drug patents, TPP’s passage as is would result in a near-total paralysis of poorer countries’ ability to produce cheap, no-name versions of life-saving drugs. Anti-malaria drugs, TB antibiotics, HIV meds & more would be nestled safely in the hands of monolothic Pfizer, Novartis, Eli Lilly, & Roche, charging through-the-roof prices at the cost of a lot of dead poor people.
Worse, President Barack Obama’s own affection for global agriculture giant Monsanto (in one of the most underreported stories of the year, everybody’s favourite Democrat signed into effect the Monsanto Protection Act, which among other things obviates the federal courts’ ability to demand that a GMO product be removed from circulation in light of research demonstrating potential harms to consumer health; the Bill was written virtually by Monsanto through their stooge Sen. Roy Blunt. Fortunately, there are noises that it might be killed in the Senate), TPP further enshrines corporate control over seed patents, making life impossibly difficult for independent, non-GMO-using farmers to grow & selltheir products, & establishing harsh consequences for infractions. (Such infractions could include, for example, if a corporate investigator finds their patented soy bean in a crop which has not paid for it – despite the fact that the two crops abut each other & unintentional cross-pollination is virtually impossible to prevent).
Backlash to TPP’s relentless assault on civil liberties & human rights in staunch defense of corporate profits have begun in all corners. The Council of Canadians have their own petition which I encourage you all to sign, as does Médecins Sans Frontières. Sign them both. Email your friends. Spread the word.
It is also worth noting that huge thanks are due to Julian Assange & Wikileaks, both of whom continue to make themselves relevant by leaking exactly this kind of material. Though Canada’s punditocracy is generally hostile to whistleblowers (q.v. the near-demented Rex Murphy, who must, one would sort of have to think, be suffering from syphilis or something), it remains an uncontroversial fact that it thanks only due to Wikileaks, Assange, Edward Snowden, Anonymous et. al that we are able to on any level participate meaningfully in our democratic process. Perhaps you enjoy having your policy decisions being made by the upper echelons of Canadian political/corporate elites; the press certainly seems to (or they would end the cowardly distraction of Rob Ford’s ongoing crucifixion). Personally, I do not.
Unless & until our government relents in its determined slouch towards secrecy (Canada dropped ten places down the ranking in the 2013 Press Freedom Index), & our establishment press reverse course in their own collusion with corporate interests, it will remain the duty of citizens to expose wrongdoing done by government. & as today’s revelations clearly demonstrate, the extent of that wrongdoing is deeper, more infernal than the imagination can countenance.