August 4, 2005 | By Donna Wentworth

Exporting Bad Ideas - House Approves CAFTA

Last week the US continued to bully the world into adopting the very worst aspects of American intellectual property and Internet law, with the House of Representatives approving the US-Dominican Republic - Central America Free Trade Agreement (a.k.a. "CAFTA"). The agreement obligates countries to enact dangerous policies that go far beyond their obligations under international agreements, including WTO-TRIPS.

In a move endorsed by Hollywood and special-interest software lobbyists, the treaty requires countries to enact laws modeled after the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). That means that the signatories will suffer the same harm to innovation and consumer rights that the US has suffered.

CAFTA will also require signatories to extend copyright protection to 70 years after the death of the author, permit software patents, and eliminate anonymity for website domain names owners. The last is especially pernicious: in countries with histories of repression, taking away online speakers' anonymity means people with pro-democracy or anti-corruption messages will be vulnerable.

It's clear that a treaty like this isn't in best interests of Latin American countries, but negotiators don't have much of a choice. The countries desperately need the increased access to US markets that the treaty promises. As it has repeatedly done before, the US is leveraging its disproportionate bargaining power in this regional agreement to force bad policies down other countries' throats.

CAFTA will hurt US citizens, too. Now US technology innovators have another set of countries in which they are forced to beg copyright holders' permission to innovate.

El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras have approved the agreement, while Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic have yet to vote on it. EFF continues to offer assistance to countries around the world to evaluate and resist the US export of these kinds of harmful laws. For more information, check out EFF's page on free trade agreements and Declan McCullagh's CNET piece, Copyright Lobbyists Strike Again.

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