Another round of negotiations kicks off in Singapore for the Transpacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), and copyright user advocates have expressed fears that the agreement could see Australians automatically fined thousands for illegally downloading music if the US succeeds in introducing strict intellectual property provisions.
Mandatory statutory damages for copyright infringement is just one measure contained in leaked US Government proposals for the intellectual property chapter of the agreement. The agreement is meant to boost economic integration between the US and Australia, Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, Singapore, Peru, Vietnam and Malaysia.
According to the leaked documents, the US Government's ideal intellectual property protections for the agreement also include stronger "digital locks" for copyrighted works, criminalising recording in cinemas and extending parallel import bans on copyrighted goods to consumers. The US previously failed to implement these strict intellectual property provisions in the Anti-Counterfeit Trade Agreement (ACTA).
The proposals have been scrutinised by the Australian Digital Alliance (ADA), which advocates the interests of copyrights users and whose members include Google, Yahoo!, universities and schools.
ADA officer Matt Dawes said the introduction of mandatory statutory damages for all TPP member-countries could create Australian "file-sharing martyrs" like Jamie Thomas-Rasset, the American single mother who was ordered to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for illegally downloading a handful of songs.
The provision would see a standard fine issued for any infringement, which he said incentivises lawyers and record firms to pursue pirates on a mass scale in the hope of securing a large number of quick settlements.
"It's spawned an economic model in the US, where a law firm will sue a couple of thousand people and get thousands of settlement offers," Dawes said.
The comments were supported by University of Queensland senior law lecturer Kim Weatherall, who said that the US was rehashing the proposals it failed to implement in the anti-counterfeit trade agreement (ACTA).
She pointed to previous commentary she'd written on the mandatory damages proposals in ACTA, where she'd said that the greatest threat was excessively high awards — potentially higher even than damages ordered in criminal trials.
She cited cases in the US where guilty parties were ordered to pay $25,000 per infringed CD and $80,000 per song, generating multi-million dollar windfalls for rights owners.
The leaked intellectual property proposals also indicate that the US government wants to strengthen Technological Protection Measures (TPMs) or digital locks, which restrict people from re-using copyrighted material.
ADA officer Dawes said that exceptions for digital locks can be granted for legitimate non-infringing uses, for example for education, but the TPPA will make it even harder to attain these exceptions.
Dawes said that the US Government's proposals are not the actual negotiating text, but essentially what the Americans want to see in the TPPA. He hoped that member-governments would represent the interests of local citizens and consumers in negotiations.