Hollywood Using Trump To Undermine The Internet In NAFTA Talks
from the this-is-bad dept
As you may be aware, the US, Canada and Mexico are “renegotiating NAFTA” for reasons that don’t entirely make sense, but we’ll leave that aside. Either way, opening up that process has created an opportunity for Hollywood to attack the internet, and they’ve rushed right in. And, despite promises to the contrary, it appears that Hollywood may have succeeded in getting the Trump administration’s US Trade Representative to back its dangerous plans.
To fully explain this requires a bit of a history lesson. A few decades back, Hollywood realized that what it couldn’t get Congress to pass, it could force upon the US through “international trade agreements.” Much of the history of what happened is detailed in the excellent 2002 book, Information Feudalism by Peter Drahos and John Braithwaite. The very short version is this: international trade agreements have mostly been negotiated without much fanfare or attention, often in secret, with handshake deals in backrooms. And since “trade agreements” are about industry and commerce, trade negotiators often spend most of their time listening to industry representatives to figure out what they want, rather than looking at what’s best for everyone as a whole.
The legacy entertainment middlemen (very cleverly!) realized this long before many others did, and realized that if they could make copyright a “trade” issue, they could continually ratchet up the protectionist parts of copyright law. The plan involves a few clever components. First, find a few countries where they can convince local legislatures to pass ever more draconian copyright laws. Second, put pressure on trade negotiators to put similar provisions into trade agreements. Third, whine about countries (including the US) “failing to live up to the obligations of our international trade agreements” and forcing everyone to ratchet up their copyright laws to “comply.” Wash, rinse, repeat.
This is actually how the DMCA itself became law in the US (which is ironic as you’ll see in a moment). Hollywood tried to pass a DMCA-like law in the US in the mid-1990s and it failed. So, as the main architect of this plan publicly admitted a few years ago, they did “an end-run around Congress,” ran to Geneva, and got a new trade agreement — the WIPO Copyright Treaty — passed. And then they scurried right back to Congress, and said to meet the obligations of the WIPO Copyright Treaty, we needed the DMCA.
Since then, Hollywood has pushed for draconian copyright requirements in basically every trade agreement, and the USTR was only too happy to oblige. Ridiculously, the USTR, while pushing ever more draconian copyright law around the globe through trade agreements, has flatly refused to also include fair use or equivalent “safety valves” to keep the law from being abused. Of course, as we’ve discussed for years, these “safety valves” — generally called “limitations and exceptions” — are actually fundamental user rights. In short: the USTR has pushed for rights for big corporations, while refusing to include the necessary rights for the public. That’s a dangerous combination.
That brings us to the ongoing NAFTA renegotiation. Hollywood has been whining about the DMCA’s safe harbors quite a bit in the past few years (yes, the same safe harbors that are from the DMCA that it forced the US to pass via international trade agreements). So far, however, heavy lobbying by the RIAA and MPAA to do away with the DMCA’s safe harbors has failed to convince Congress (in part because Congress has seen through this game and, in part, because Congress still remembers what happened with its attempt to undermine the internet through copyright law with SOPA).
But, hey, with the reopening of NAFTA, Hollywood saw an opportunity, and has pushed for language that will undermine the DMCA’s safe harbors and fair use — things they can’t get through Congress alone. Unfortunately, the latest reports are that the USTR has agreed to support this move and, even though it’s been shown that more balanced copyright promotes trade, the US is now officially putting more draconian copyright on the agenda — a move that risks undermining the entire internet, not to mention a major backlash from internet users as well.
Needless to say, this is bad. Some in Congress are speaking up on this, but it’s falling along the traditional lines. Senator Ron Wyden has made it clear that he’s “deeply concerned” that the Trump administration is willing “to undermine the internet as a platform for speech, innovation and US jobs” with the NAFTA renegotiation. On the flip side, you have Orrin Hatch — a Senator so closely associated with giving the legacy entertainment industry everything it’s ever wanted, that he’s given the nickname “Senator Fido” (as in “lapdog”) in Rob Reid’s comic novel about the music industry. Hatch has spoken up in support of Hollywood, saying that while it’s fine to reopen the DMCA’s safe harbors, there should be no mention of fair use or any other user rights in these negotiations.
At this point, it appears that Canada is left pushing back on the US’s crazy Hollywood-inspired demands. Of course, Canada’s suggestions aren’t all wonderful either, but at least it’s pushing for a more balanced approach — one that actually recognizes the rights of the public and the importance of protecting free speech, while the USTR (pushed by Hollywood) seems to have decided to throw that right out the window.
Obviously, there are so many other things going on these days, that it’s easy to miss the background of “NAFTA 2.0” negotiations. But at this point, it appears that Trump’s USTR — at the urging of Hollywood — is trying to use these negotiations to do real damage to free speech and innovation online. Taking away the DMCA’s safe harbors and refusing to include important protections like fair use in any copyright language should be seen as a non-starter. As we’ve argued for years, copyright is best left out of trade agreements altogether, but if it does need to be in there, giving Hollywood it’s wishlist plan to destroy the internet shouldn’t be the USTR’s top priority.