For the US, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is clearly a priority. It is promoted as a 21st-century agreement that will eventually include all of the Asia-Pacific countries. The implications would be felt by everyone living in the region, some more than others. It is more than a trade agreement; it will shape our future and how we create, access, and share information and technology. However, details have been sketchy and most of us would have only viewed the leaked copy of the intellectual property chapter released by WikiLeaks.
Is such secrecy usual? According to Konstantinos Komaitis, policy advisor, Internet Society, it is a free trade agreement (FTA); traditionally, FTAs have been conducted by trade negotiators behind closed doors, and this was the norm in pre-internet days. However, with the internet now being integrated in our lives, this procedural model appears to be out of sync, and people have come to expect transparency and inclusiveness as part of their minimum requirements. It does not help that there is a feeling that the TPP includes issues that may affect the internet and intellectual property on the internet.
To make matters worse, since the ACTA fiasco, people have felt strongly that they have a right to participate in such discussions, and that they should do so because these decisions can affect their day-to-day experience of the internet. Dr Burcu Kilic from Public Citizen added that while civil society is kept in the dark on the actual texts, 600 American lobbyists and so-called cleared advisors have full access to all text, and they can advise the US trade representative. This does not really breed trust when only a few are given access to the information, and the rest of us are left boxing at the shadows.
What about IP rights? Konstantinos added that deciding how to appropriately address intellectual property rights (IPR) in an online environment is a relevant issue for many stakeholders, not just governments. This combined insight and experience of all internet governance stakeholders can provide adequate and well-balanced solutions to some of the issues the TPP seeks to address, such as IP. Burcu jumped in to add that balance is not about access and innovation only, but also balance of stakeholders' interest — for instance, for consumer interests to be safeguarded.
From what it appears, the TPP seems to suggest an evolution of IP rights along with what has been bandied about in recent years in different forms: More protection for performers and their works, longer protection periods, more criminal sanctions, and additional responsibilities on intermediaries.
How much time will the rest of us be given to comment on the TPP? Or will it be simply imposed on us all?