Copyright policies do not belong in trade agreements­—period. Negotiated without a trace of transparency or democratic oversight, these secret diplomatic processes are the worst venues to enact digital policy. Not only has the public been completely shut out, U.S. Congress members have extremely limited access to agreement texts even as they’re being negotiated. 

It gets worse: lawmakers themselves may soon pass a bill that severely limits their own ability to improve or remove language in agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement or the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). That includes any copyright or Internet control provisions that have been smuggled in by special interest groups.

Stop Secret Copyright Treaties

Fast Track, also called Trade Promotion Authority, is a process that hands away Congress’ constitutional power to set the terms of U.S. trade policy, and gives the executive branch concentrated authority to negotiate and finalize trade agreements. Under Fast Track, the White House would have the power to sign off on treaties, after which Congress will only have the power to have an up or down, Yes or No vote to ratify the deal.

All signs point to the White House’s intention to use it to override any remaining hope for Congressional oversight in these trade deals.

The core of the problem is that corporate advisors, like the copyright industries, have easy and ongoing access to negotiations. In the case of TPP, they can log-in from any computer and see and comment on draft text. Meanwhile, Congress members have to go to a special room at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative where they can only view the text on a “read and retain” basis. That means they can’t take notes, make no copies, and bring no supporting staff—even those who have proper security clearance and have the expertise to make sense of the language in trade agreements.

Now that the TPP is nearing the U.S.’ self-imposed deadline, delegates are being rushed to wrap up negotiations. What remains unfinished are the most controversial terms of the deal, provisions that countries have resisted making compromises on. Among those controversial terms include…you guessed it: copyright enforcement.

When countries are pressured to conclude a trade agreement, they ultimately trade various provisions in exchange for others. Countries that have been steadfast against bad copyright enforcement terms may give in due to domestic pressures to prioritize other regulatory issues. So not only have these negotiations been ultra-secretive all along, now it’s being hurried and that doesn’t bode well at all.

How can this process possibly lead to digital policies that uphold the rights and interests of Internet users? It can’t. As long as the U.S. trade office treats corporate insiders as the only relevant voice in policymaking, as long as elected lawmakers are largely shut out, and as long as Internet users’ concerns are considered as an after-thought (if they are considered at all), this process is undemocratic and illegitimate.

This is why we need to fight against Fast Track and prevent it from getting authorized. With ACTA, TPP, and as the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) comes along, it’s now more crucial than ever. Those of us in the U.S. need to get our Congress members to exercise their constitutional authority to ensure that these trade deals respect our digital rights. It would be an assault on our democratic governance to allow our lawmakers to hand over their own mandate to the White House.

Other Ways You Can Take Action:

You can also sign Public Citizen’s petition to stop Congress from renewing Fast Track authority.

Submit your own comments about copyright enforcement online and tell us how you’d like Your Digital Future to look like.


Additional resources:

How Congress might have already tied Obama’s hands in trade negotiations — The Washington Post, by Lydia DePillis

Obama’s Covert Trade DealNew York Times Op-Ed by Lori Wallach and Ben Beachy

Notes from U.S. Senate Finance Committee Hearing to Confirm Michael Froman as United States Trade Representative [PDF] (June 6, 2013)