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IP: Singing from the same songbook

Posted on November 23, 2009

New Zealand has sought a Free Trade Agreement with the United States for some time. As part of most trade agreements between much larger markets and smaller countries like New Zealand, the inevitable concessions are made by a smaller country for the longer-term gain in access to the market.

In the past, this was mostly around the timing of subsidies and the speed with which access to the market happened for each party. However, more recently the realm of Intellectual Property Rights have become a core part of the concessions a smaller country must make in order to do business with the United States.

The US is by far and away the largest producer of content for the English-speaking world. Whether they are a key part of the US economy or not isn't actually that important. What matters is they have access to the people drawing up the agreements, and are the large market side of the game.

This is where the ACTA ("Anti-Counterfeit Trade Agreement") comes in. The ACTA isn't itself a trade agreement (despite the "TA" part standing for that), but it is a key condition of any attempt to get a free trade agreement with the United States. In signing up to the ACTA, we are not only implementing a fairly harsh and US-centric approach to copyright, but also agreeing that the US shall determine all future IP rules and laws.

Sadly, those laws will not be written for the benefit - even long term - of New Zealand content producers or artists. Our voices are not being heard by US negotiators, they will tend to only listen to the people who are key to their continued election.

The ACTA therefore is not about protection of the rights of artists anywhere. It has nothing to do with ensuring New Zealand IP is protected. It has everything to do with creating a global IP standard based on the needs of large US content providers. It is likely to create a global-DMCA, in doing so reduce the standards of evidence, the reduce the right to privacy based on debatable evidence, suppress freedom of speech and satire under a notice-and-takedown system that favors large corporations over individuals, and reduce due process in a similar way to Section 92A (now withdrawn) did here.

We have already seen that the US does not even see any need to respect IP rights of those outside the US. The original Google Books decision allowed Google to scan any book "out of print" - but "out of print" was defined as not sold in the US. A book from a New Zealand author would have been legal in US law to scan and distribute as Google saw fit, denying any sense of copyright to our own authors.

While the decision was revisited, and now does not include New Zealand books in the same way, it is none-the-less a warning sign of how IP rights in the future will be handled.

We will all be singing from the same songbook, the one lobbyists in a far away land with their own interests in mind wrote.

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