Patents, Trademarks And Copyrights Have No Place In Trade Agreements

from the it's-not-a-matter-of-trade dept

As we've discussed before, one of the sneakier moves of the content industry (and, later, the pharmaceutical industry) was to jump into the international trade process, to circumvent national governments and to effectively force them into passing laws that they liked. We've been raising concerns about this whole process, and it appears that many public interest/civil service groups agree. With the US and Europe getting ready to start negotiations on a "trans-atlantic free trade agreement" (TAFTA), a large group of public interest/civil service groups have teamed up to issue a declaration that "intellectual property" has no place in free trade agreements. It also demands much more transparency in any negotiation.
First, we insist that the European Union and United States release, in timely and ongoing fashion, any and all negotiating or pre-negotiation texts. We believe that secretive “trade” negotiations are absolutely unacceptable forums for devising binding rules that change national non-trade laws.

Second, we insist that the proposed TAFTA exclude any provisions related to patents, copyright, trademarks, data protection, geographical indications, or other forms of so-called “intellectual property”. Such provisions could impede our rights to health, culture, and free expression and otherwise affect our daily lives.

Past trade agreements negotiated by the US and EU have significantly increased the privileges of multinational corporations at the expense of society in general. Provisions in these agreements can, among many other concerns, limit free speech, constrain access to educational materials such as textbooks and academic journals, and, in the case of medicines, raise healthcare costs and contribute to preventable suffering and death.

Unless “intellectual property” is excluded from these talks, we fear that the outcome will be an agreement that inflicts the worst of both regimes’ rules on the other party. From a democratic perspective, we believe that important rules governing technology, health, and culture should be debated in the US Congress, the European Parliament, national parliaments, and other transparent forums where all stakeholders can be heard—not in closed negotiations that give privileged access to corporate insiders.

The TAFTA negotiations must not lead to a rewriting of patent and copyright rules in a way that tilts the balance even further away from the interests of citizens.
Frankly, they could go much further in their statement. As we've pointed out for years, things like patents and copyrights are the exact opposite of "free trade." They are, by definition, restrictions on free trade -- and a form of protectionism. If the goal of a free trade agreement is to remove those kinds of restrictions and ease the flow of trade between nations, it seems incredibly strange to bundle it with blatant mercantilist concepts of protectionism and monopolies.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    PopeyeLePoteaux, Mar 20th, 2013 @ 4:02am


    ... all those points will fall on deaf ears, just like the TPP, and I wouldn't be surprised at all if TAFTA negotiations turn out to be just as secretive as TPP negotiations.

    As long as corporations are treated as individuals and have power and influence over goverments, we will see this kind of BS over and over again.

    After all, laws apparently are goods that can be bought and the ones with the fatest wallets get the "best" deals.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    Ninja (profile), Mar 20th, 2013 @ 4:23am

    Free trade agreements sponsored by the US only mean "free for US so we can shape laws all over the world and domestically to fit the interests of our giant corporations".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 20th, 2013 @ 4:32am

    If we must craft lengthy, complex agreements, the trade is hardly free, is it?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 20th, 2013 @ 4:50am

    Re: Sadly...

    Well what is needed is for the public to create their own people.

    I mean their own corporate institutions that are controlled and financed by the people and start drafting crazy laws too.

    How much do you wanna bet that the first crazy law that is passed by a corporate institution controlled by the people will create the right environment for change?

    On a different note, everything seems to be virtual these days. virtual people, virtual money, virtual rights, crazy times.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 20th, 2013 @ 4:53am

    Free trade in one Semtence

    We will not impose any tariff or legal requirements on imports that we do not impose on our own companies and corporations.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 20th, 2013 @ 5:15am


    Free Trade is a misnomer that's for sure.

    It's predominantly about restrictions.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 20th, 2013 @ 5:21am

    Naming conventions for agreements

    "Free-trade" -> "Oligarchic=guaranteeing"
    "Cybersecurity" -> "Fearful Populace"
    "For the children" -> "Protectionist bullshit"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    Josef Anvil (profile), Mar 20th, 2013 @ 5:40am

    Re: Sadly...

    It is sad that the level of corruption in governments around the world is so obscene. It's gotten to the point where we no longer just accept it quietly and our leaders still don't seem to care.

    It does make you wonder how long such a system is sustainable without the shroud of secrecy it's enjoyed for so long.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 20th, 2013 @ 6:02am

    Re: Sadly...

    I don't care if they are so secretive that the Ancient Aliens guy starts claiming they are aliens. If they can help turn the tides on copyright maximalists they will have my support.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    special-interesting (profile), Mar 20th, 2013 @ 6:25am

    Wow! I so totally agree with this. Inducements for original-work creation is 100% a domestic concern. What dose anyone care how other foreign entities (countries, TPP, TAFTA, TRIPS, ect) treat or abuse their artists and media firms?

    Wouldn't any such agreements intrude upon free trade anyway. If I understand right aren't all these agreements are, in reality, based on protectionism and written in ways we would misunderstand as laymen? Its been of lately a hallmark that all bills submitted to congress have some cool sounding name or acronym that implies some benefit where the text of the bill is written by special interest groups (thus writing law that mean exactly opposite of the name). So why trust any of that?

    Furthermore. All these funny foreign agreements have been negotiated in secret and by default that means someone else's rights are trampling on mine.

    This is a much better phrased argument that your Senator or Representative might understand. At least I do. (and I don't understand much!)

    Shameless plug: It might even offer the opportunity to suggest the self consistent socially and culturally defensible argument that; Original-works (some might say copyright) must have terms less than the lives of who we teach them to (our kids) so that they can actually use the wisdom we shared with them before they die. (this is not my idea only my words and phrasing)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    DannyB (profile), Mar 20th, 2013 @ 6:31am

    No place

    Reason, Transparency and Promoting Commerce have no place in trade agreement negotiations.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    Zakida Paul (profile), Mar 20th, 2013 @ 6:43am

    Free trade agreements with stipulations around protection of monopolies and the stifling of competition and innovation.

    That may just be the very definition of irony.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    out_of_the_blue, Mar 20th, 2013 @ 6:57am

    "Free trade" is a "blatant mercantilist concept".

    All "free trade" agreements do is favor retailing over domestic manufacturing. Cheaper foreign labor produces goods which can then be imported with lowered or no tariffs to compete with higher cost domestic products. It's NOT good industrial policy, and now that the US has become so hollowed out, no one can deny how it affects the working class.

    Mike isn't from the working class; he's an Ivy League technocrat. He's for "free trade" because born into luxury, never had to actually compete on equal terms, nor been involved in daily grind to produce physical goods. His view is entirely academic, where he simply makes up automobile factories that operate the same as movie studios, explicitly ignores "sunk (or fixed) costs", just waves his hands and those are premised as long since recovered so that he can focus on marginal costs. That's why his $100M movie example is false: in the real world, ALL costs matter.

    Anyhoo, it's EASY to see the motivations of those dreaded and disparaged "intellectual property" types: if piracy spreads -- and is encouraged by academics that have no stake in the industry -- then their revenue will quickly slow below a sustaining level. So they're doing what can to protect their livelihood. -- If you don't wish to support them, then don't! But don't continue to consume their products while calling them stupid and greedy.

    For Free Trade Mike it's yet another opportunity to chip away at the legal protections that provide the framework for entire content industries to exist. Mike doesn't have any magic method by which $100M movies can be supported with voluntary payments, and in practical fact, he's actually against copyright and encourages piracy.

    Take a loopy tour of! You always end up at same place!
    If Mike supports copyright, why are the pirates here? They take him same as I do: PRO-PIRACY!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 20th, 2013 @ 7:25am

    Re: "Free trade" is a "blatant mercantilist concept".

    I am declaring my home a "free IP zone" :P

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 20th, 2013 @ 7:38am

    Re: "Free trade" is a "blatant mercantilist concept".

    Seriously, have you found a single person that refuses to see a movie if it costs less than a hundred million bucks to film?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    jupiterkansas (profile), Mar 20th, 2013 @ 8:18am

    Re: Re: Sadly...

    Not just obscene, but legalized. That's the ultimate corruption.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    tomxp411 (profile), Mar 20th, 2013 @ 8:28am

    Copyright is important, though

    Here's the thing.

    Without international Copyright enforcement, Copyright may as well not exist. But we also can't allow treaties to dictate national policy.

    We do need to establish that countries WILL respect other nations' Copyright laws. While TAFTA should not lay out specifics, such as the length of a Copyright or what constitutes fair use, I think it should establish each participants' obligation to respect the Copyrights and Patent laws of other signatories to the treaty.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. icon
    DH's Love Child (profile), Mar 20th, 2013 @ 9:32am

    Re: Copyright is important, though

    "Without international Copyright enforcement, Copyright may as well not exist"

    Assuming that copyright is important (and I'm not willing to concede that point) it still has no place in a free trade agreement. Free trade should be about increasing trade opportunities between countries and copyright is by definition a restriction of free trade.

    The other problem with that statement is that this assumes that copyright terms are the same for all the countries. It's not, and by making treaties that say all the countries need to adhere to all the other countries copyright terms, it ends up being a race to the most restrictive terms. This basically makes the legislative processes in each individual country meaningless as they wouldn't be allowed to make more public friendly copyright terms without violating international treaties.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 20th, 2013 @ 11:33am

    well, i guess they have just signed their own death warrant and will be excluded from every step of the negotiations. if they thought for one minute that the entertainment industries are going to allow any form of openness and any public interest bodies be included in any of the discussions, they must be on something!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 20th, 2013 @ 12:49pm

    Re: Copyright is important, though

    "Without international Copyright enforcement, Copyright may as well not exist."

    One can only hope and dream.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. icon
    Corwin (profile), Mar 20th, 2013 @ 2:46pm

    Patents, Trademarks And Copyrights Have No Place In Reality

    There, FTFY.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    staff, Mar 21st, 2013 @ 12:37pm

    more dissembling by Masnick

    The word on the street is Masnick and his monkeys are puppets of large multinational patent infringers...thieves.

    They have an unreported conflict of interest-

    They sell blog filler and "insights" to major corporations including MS, HP, IBM etc. who just happen to be some of the world’s most frequent patent suit defendants. Obviously, he has failed to report his conflicts as any reputable reporter would. But then Masnick and his monkeys are not reporters. They are hacks representing themselves as legitimate journalists receiving funding from huge corporate infringers. They cannot be trusted and have no credibility. All they know about patents is they don’t have any.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Robert D. Martin, Mar 21st, 2013 @ 12:49pm

    How about sharing this publicly with the world at large

    Is it okay to re-broadcast this TechDirt posting and the comments about it that were made here to the general internet public?

    If not what a shame that it be so. I wholeheartedly agree with much that was so expressed and I would so gladly see this and other similarly relevant TechDirt postings shared within as broad a public internet discourse as possible. (...while that be yet possible)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    Robert D. Martin, Mar 21st, 2013 @ 1:06pm

    Re: more dissembling by Masnick

    imo it is not necessary to "have" patents nor even to wholly understand them in all their known and potential ramifications in order to legitimately comment upon them and their uses and misuses.

    There also is no need for Masnick to "report" the uses made of his and the others' comments by whomever. I in fact hope that the whole world gets to make good use of and to further share those comments.

    It is imo after all high time that the whole world discuss the issues at hand. I firmly believe that our every very survival depend upon that happening as much as possible without restriction. True and effective change towards a more survival oriented and nature respecting and nurturing worldwide systemic is imo of high priority in order even for we, ourselves, to within our own lifetimes (let alone our own children or their children within theirs) yet have the chance for survival and well-being not become irrevocably impossible.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. icon
    tomxp411 (profile), Apr 9th, 2013 @ 5:25pm

    Re: Re: Copyright is important, though

    Hey, I make my living with the stuff that comes out of my brain. I shudder to think what would happen without Copyright.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. icon
    tomxp411 (profile), Apr 9th, 2013 @ 5:36pm

    Re: Re: Copyright is important, though

    Actually, without Copyright, there is no "trade" when it comes to IP. It's just "take," and I don't agree at all with the idea that every bit of writing, music, or software should be public domain.

    A large part of what the US produces these days is IP of some sort: movies, music, television shows, video games, computer software.

    How could a trade agreement NOT cover the responsibilities of signatories to respect the rights of the people that created those items?

    Again, I don't want to see an international agreement saying what kinds of Copyright terms a US-made product will have in the US. What I want to see is something that essentially says that Copyright will be protected based on the country where the product was created.

    So a Hollywood movie would have US Copyright protection in Spain, and a BBC production would have English Copyright protection in the US.

    The only other way is to have local Copyright protecting foreign products, and I'm not willing to live with the idea that I can write a computer program that may be worth a lot of money, and then have some country say "We don't honor foreign Copyright" and decide that my stuff is free to pirate.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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