USTR Insists Secret, MPAA-Backed TPP Is 'Most Transparent Trade Negotiation In History'... From Hollywood Studio

from the does-anyone-believe-this-crap? dept

Honestly, it's somewhat difficult to believe that someone who works in the USTR didn't recognize that it was a bad idea to have their new boss, Michael Froman, who was once called one of the most "egregious examples" of the "revolving door" between companies and government, head out to visit two of the largest Hollywood studios just days after the IP chapter of the secretive TPP agreement was leaked, showing that it was basically Hollywood's wishlist of copyright crap. It's even more difficult to believe, given all that and given that Froman decided to go hang out with some friendly folks in Hollywood anyway, that someone at the USTR didn't think maybe, just maybe, Froman should avoid giving an interview in which he'd be asked about the leaked chapter.

But, it happened. Of course, the interview was with Variety, so maybe they figured that only Hollywood people would read it, and that the rest of the world would never catch on to the fact that Froman is either totally clueless or a blatant liar about the TPP. However, he did give an interview, while "touring Paramount's backlot" in which he said a bunch of nutty things. Here's my favorite:
He also called the talks over the trade pact “the most transparent trade negotiation in history,” noting that they have held more than 1,000 briefings on Capitol Hill, have enlisted 600 advisers for input from various groups and have invited stakeholders to address negotiators from all 12 countries, among other efforts.
Let's just say, this is pure bullshit. Extreme bullshit. Honestly, even Variety (which, as you might imagine, tends to toe the Hollywood line) seems to suggest that this claim isn't actually true. And, of course, considering that the USTR is infamously secretive, being "the most transparent in history" doesn't mean you were actually transparent at all. And, in this case, the fact that he's claiming it's "the most transparent in history" days after a chapter that no one in the public has seen during nearly four years of negotiations had to be leaked should highlight the level of bullshit that Froman is spewing.

He seems to have pulled this "most transparent" bullshit from his predecessor, Ron Kirk, who used to claim the same thing. Both are fundamentally trying to mislead. We've said it before, and we'll say it again, listening to lots of people, while not revealing what you're doing, is not transparency. It's listening. Listening may be better than not listening, but it's completely different than "transparency." Let me make this even clearer:
  • Listening: People ---- information -----> USTR
  • Transparency: USTR --- information ----> The Public
What Froman described above is about listening. They get "advice" from various stakeholders. That's not transparency. That's listening. So long as no one gets to see what crap they're negotiating "on our behalf," there's no transparency. At all. The only time this negotiation had any transparency was when Wikileaks finally released the IP chapter which the USTR should have and could have done years ago.

The other bit of bullshit in the interview was his misleading response to the claim by some that TPP is like SOPA. Now, I should be clear that we've avoided making that comparison, because there is a different set of issues here. And Froman used those differences to try to discredit all criticism of TPP:
“For example, as I understand it, I wasn’t around for it, (the Stop Online Piracy Act) was about blocking rogue Internet sites from accessing the Internet from the United States. There is nothing in the Trans Pacific Partnership, zero, that has anything to do with that,” he said.
But "blocking rogue websites" isn't what's making people make the comparison between TPP and SOPA. It's two things: (1) a backroom deal negotiated in secret with no input from the public which (2) includes basically a wishlist from Hollywood. The fact that the two wishlists are not identical is not really the point, but it's the point Froman chose to focus on, because he's trying to mislead the public.

Froman continues to demonstrate that he has no business in the role he's in:
“Our goal through these trade negotiations is to make sure we are raising the standard of protection around the world, for artists and the people who support them,” he said.
Except that's not supposed to be the goal at all, and the fact that he thinks it is makes him clearly unqualified for his job. Remember that the TPP is supposed to be about free trade, yet here he is admitting that his actual agenda is increasing protectionism. Second, as anyone who knows anything about intellectual property knows, "raising the standard of protection" has been shown repeatedly to be rather harmful to creators and the public. And, again, the entire purpose of copyright law is supposed to be about promoting progress for the public. It would appear that Froman doesn't know this. And yet he's in charge of negotiating this thing? Really?

This is the reason why transparency matters. Because when you take someone who doesn't understand intellectual property at all, such as Froman, and tell him to negotiate a trade agreement in which the only people he shares the negotiating text with are maximalists, all he hears is how they have to "raise" standards, even as most of the world has realized that the "standards" are already way too high and tremendously damaging to the economy and innovation.

Either way, this whole situation is incredible. You have the USTR, just days after the secret treaty that was written with the help of Hollywood's lobbyists is leaked out, declaring that it's the most transparent in history despite the fact that, if he had his way, none of the public would have seen it, and saying so while touring Hollywood studios. The USTR is either extremely confident that no one cares about trade agreements, or a large segment of the staff there is profoundly clueless. Or maybe it's both.

SOPA was taken down because it was a backroom deal and a Hollywood wishlist, without respect for the public. ACTA went down for the same reason. If Froman doesn't want the same thing to happen to TPP, he might want to learn a thing or two about intellectual property and what transparency means. Because as of right now, he appears to be setting himself up to be roadkill for another internet uprising.

Filed Under: acta, michael froman, sopa, tpp, transparency, ustr
Companies: disney, mpaa, paramount


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2013 @ 9:22am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "So I spend billions developing a new cancer drug or building a 3d printer that can replicate human organs or whatever. Then the massive fixed costs I've incurred should be ….what? Ignored? Those that risked no capital, engaged in no innovation whatsoever should be free to profit from the fruits of my labor? My innovation? My creativity? Fuck that."

    First, no one's getting rid of patent protection entirely, so nice straw man.

    OK, so apply it to my $100 movie.

    Second, the "fruits of labor" argument is dead in the water. Even the Supreme Court has noted that IP is not about fruits of one's labor but, rather promoting the progress of science and the useful arts.

    Our IP system recognizes an exclusive use which creates the financial incentive for creators to promote such arts and sciences.

    Third, the myth that the big new cancer drug or the 3d printer that can replicate human organs is the idea of a single brilliant mind or company is strong with you. It's a myth though. To get there, takes tons of follow on innovation -- nearly all of which is hindered, delayed or outright stopped thanks to stupid patent laws you like. The technology for basic 3d printing was available decades ago and went no where. Why is it starting to move forward now? Because the patents expired. Thanks for holding back innovation for two decades. Fuck THAT.

    Way to ignore the fact that the initial innovation may not have been funded had there not been a period of exclusivity for the creators to recoup their investment.

    Fourth, the idea that just one company gets the ENTIRE FUCKING MONOPOLY is a huge problem. Let's say four companies all spend billions developing a cancer drug -- and the one who figures it out a day earlier gets the patent. What about your precious "fruits of their labor" for the other 3?

    Seriously? Four companies come up with precisely the same formula within days of each other?

    Fifth, let's ratchet that fourth one up: let's say that company number 2 in that race above has a better, safer, more effective solution -- that is kept entirely from the market because it's blocked by the patent party number one got. That's okay with you? Got an example? I see products like Lipitor, Crestor and Pravachol all co-existing to reduce cholesterol.

    Sixth, you don't need a monopoly to profit from your work, and it's a myth among simple-minded fools that without protection freeriders destroy the market. Just look at the current market for drugs and generics. Even when a brand name drug goes off patent, it often remains priced at 10x to 20x the generic. Why? Because being first and having a brand gives you the ability to price things higher. You don't need protection for that. You need competition.

    I never said a monopoly was needed. That's not the case in cholesterol drugs and in most of the rest of the universe of productives there's more than one single way.

    Seventh, nearly all of those kinds of innovations are actually based on taxpayer, federally funded research initially anyway. Why isn't it public domain.

    Maybe true for some types of research, not at all true for copyright which is what you usually are wailing about.

    Eighth, nearly every study has shown that too strong IP hinders or slows innovation. That's not to say that no IP is correct, but if you make it too strong it's a real problem. Locking everyone into identical IP regimes based on YOUR IGNORANT FAITH for what's right, means that you lose the ability to actually figuring out what benefits the world the most.

    I'd argue that the US is the most robust, innovated IP intensive economy on earth. While our IP regime may be imperfect, I'd like you to cite a more innovative economy whose IP system is better.

    Ninth, good innovators know they can continue to innovate. Last year I brought together a group of a dozen of the top entrepreneurs in the country to do a roundtable for the White House, and the folks there kept asking them how they could help "protect" their IP. Finally, one of the entrepreneurs told them "we don't want protection. We're entrepreneurs and we know people will copy us and we're fine with that, because we know we can compete and out innovate them going forward." Only people who have never innovated think in static terms like you do.

    Given the state of play in this country, I'd suggest that the group you assembled and the single entrepreneur you cited are the minority. Plus, they probably have little if any proprietary IP of their own to protect- instead relying on the innovation of others. Of course they don't care about IP.

    Tenth, you MASSIVELY over value the idea and completely ignore the execution. If I spent billions of dollars developing a drug or a 3D scanner, it doesn't matter how easy it is to copy, that copier is going to fuck it up. They may understand the superficial, but they don't understand why it works, or why the market likes my product.

    Execution matters, but so does the idea.

    Your entire response is premised on an outsiders perspective of innovation, not someone who's ever innovated or competed in the market. That's why you're such a problem. You've never done anything and yet you think you know how it works. You don't. So stop fucking it up for the rest of the world.

    And you are speaking to me as what…. the creator of the spectacular flop you call Step 2? Go raise a million dollars, make a movie, return the investment to your backers and make some money for yourself commensurate with your efforts. Then come back and we'll talk about competition in an IP space where enforcement and protection matter. There is absolutely nothing that you do that is subject to the corrosive effect of piracy or IP infringement. So don't presume to lecture people from the grandstands.

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