This is extremely unfortunate, but not surprising. Google has made some noise sounding supportive of the TPP over the past year or so, and now it's put out a blog post strongly supporting the agreement
, and claiming that it's good for intellectual property and the internet. The company is wrong. The statement is right about a big problem
on the internet -- the growing restrictions and limitations on the internet in different jurisdictions:
But Internet restrictions -- like censorship, site-blocking, and forced local storage of data -- threaten the Internet’s open architecture. This can seriously harm established businesses, startups trying to reach a global audience, and Internet users seeking to communicate and collaborate across national borders.
Yes, absolutely. And the TPP only tackles a tiny part of that -- and in some ways makes other aspects worse. But that's not what Google says. Instead, it misrepresents what the TPP really does. The post is correct about the issue of cross-border data flows and localization -- and I agree that these are good things -- but they're small parts of an agreement that has so many other problems:
The Internet has revolutionized how people can share and access information, and the TPP promotes the free flow of information in ways that are unprecedented for a binding international agreement. The TPP requires the 12 participating countries to allow cross-border transfers of information and prohibits them from requiring local storage of data. These provisions will support the Internet’s open architecture and make it more difficult for TPP countries to block Internet sites -- so that users have access to a web that is global, not just local.
It's after that where the post goes off the rails:
The TPP provides strong copyright protections, while also requiring fair and reasonable copyright exceptions and limitations that protect the Internet. It balances the interests of copyright holders with the public’s interest in the wider distribution and use of creative works -- enabling innovations like search engines, social networks, video recording, the iPod, cloud computing, and machine learning. The endorsement of balanced copyright is unprecedented for a trade agreement. The TPP similarly requires the kinds of copyright safe harbors that have been critical to the Internet’s success, with allowances for some variation to account for different legal systems.
This is just wrong, and it's the most frustrating part of the post. The TPP expands
copyright rules to ridiculous levels in many countries, including extending copyright terms at a time when there is no sound basis for advocating for extending copyright terms. And the "requiring fair and reasonable copyright exceptions and limitations that protect the Internet" is just wrong
. Yes, it's true that for the first time the USTR actually acknowledges user rights
in such an agreement. In the past, all such trade agreements only focused on expanding copyright holder rights. So you can argue that's progress
. But the details showed that it's not creating "fair and reasonable copyright exceptions and limitations," but instead pushing a misleading tool
that will limit
the way countries can explore fair use, and (even more important) makes the fair use stuff optional
. Google claiming that it requires such things is just... wrong.
The TPP advances other important Internet policy goals. It prohibits discrimination against foreign Internet services, limits governments’ ability to demand access to encryption keys or other cryptographic methods, requires pro-innovation telecom access policies, prohibits customs duties on digital products, requires proportionality in intellectual property remedies, and advances other key digital goals.
Yes, this part is also a good thing that it's in the TPP, but (1) it's so outweighed by bad things that it's really not that big of a deal and (2) the issues around encryption and telecom access policies are not nearly as clear cut in the TPP as this blog post implies, nor are they necessary to do via the TPP process.
As I've said before, I'm a supporter of free trade, generally (unlike many who oppose the TPP). But the TPP is not about free trade, other than at the margins. There's so much in there that's about blatant protectionism and supporting certain business models over others. Of course, that's how the trade game is played these days. Companies get big enough to influence the USTR to advocate for closed room deals that favor them. And Google is big enough to play that game. This public support of the TPP is a part of that game, but it's unfortunate. The company could
have and should
have taken a stand on this, noting the things that are important in the TPP, but also being honest about the disastrous IP section and other problems in the agreement (such as the corporate sovereignty provisions that will almost certainly come back to bite Google and others).
There are good trade agreements to be made. And they can focus on things like protecting a free and open internet, and creating important safe harbors for communication and innovation. But the TPP is not that agreement -- and it's disappointing that Google has decided to jump on board, rather than highlight the very clear and very real problems of the TPP.