The Greens Party has seized on an alleged leak from TransPacific Partnership negotiations, saying that the leak paints Australia as a lemming jumping off a copyright cliff.
TPP is an agreement between Australia, the United States, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore, and is aimed at making trade between the various nations easier. The meeting notes have not been made public, which has caused concern over whether the agreement is in Australia's best interests. One professor has said that the TPP could also limit any changes that could come from Australia's current copyright review.
On Friday, what appeared to be drafts from the negotiations were leaked, showing that the US and Australia were in favour of taking a hard line on copyright exceptions, putting their own proposal for clauses in the agreement, which differed from that proposed by other countries, like New Zealand and Malaysia.
The US and Australia proposed that "limitations or exceptions to exclusive rights to certain special cases that do not conflict with a normal exploitation of the work, performance or phonogram, and do not unreasonably prejudice the legitimate interests of the right holder". It also opposed an alternate proposal which would enable the countries to transfer the exceptions and limitations they currently have in domestic laws into the digital space.
It then went on to say that, given that exceptions would not conflict with copyright holder exploitation of their rights, "each Party shall seek to achieve an appropriate balance in providing limitations or exceptions, including those for the digital environment, giving due consideration to legitimate purposes, such as, but not limited to, criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching scholarship and research".
The Office of the United States Trade Representative talked about such a "balance" on its website in March, saying that it was proposing a "three-step test" for exceptions like those mentioned above. Some have raised concerns that this means that rights holders will have more chances to enforce copyright.
Greens communications spokesperson Scott Ludlam said that the government was "hell bent" on locking Australia into a dead-end copyright treaty, like it had when it signed the Anti-Counterfeiting and Trade agreement, which has been rejected by Europe.
"Information on the negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, revealed over the weekend, show the US and Australia want to defeat a proposed clause protecting domestic intellectual property laws," Ludlam said.
"New Zealand, with the support of Chile, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam, proposed this clause to permit a signatory to 'carry forward and appropriately extend into the digital environment limitations and exceptions in its domestic laws'. Only the United States and our own government oppose this perfectly reasonable provision. Why is the government promoting the erosion of our independence in this way?"
Ludlam raised concerns about the effect the agreement would have on the inquiries into Australian copyright law, saying that it the TPP could make the inquiries' findings "worthless".
"The Australian Greens urge the government to back New Zealand's proposed protection for independence, and to reject any agreement that puts the civil liberty and welfare of Australians at risk."
However, Trade Minister Craig Emerson called for calm on Twitter, responding to a commentary in The Sydney Morning Herald by Peter Martin that criticised Emerson for seemingly cozying up to the US in the TPP and accusing him of selling out Australian interests.
ZDNet requested an interview with Emerson, but was told that he is currently on leave. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade provided a statement that said the department was aware of the "allegedly leaked text on copyright limitations and exceptions".
It didn't comment on the validity of the leak, but said that "Australia supports a high-quality, balanced intellectual property chapter in the TPP" and stressed that the partnership was still in negotiation and far from finished.
"Australia's position in the intellectual property chapter has been, and continues to be, informed by a wide range of stakeholder views and perspectives," the statement continued.
"Copyright limitations and exceptions are still under negotiation. Revised text on copyright limitations and exceptions has been tabled as recently as the last round, in July 2012. Australia is giving careful consideration to all proposals."