The Trans-Pacific Partnership Threatens Internet Freedom, Here’s How

Matthew Hughes 18-10-2014

ACTA and SOPA might be dead and buried, but the specter of draconian copyright law still lingers, as the leak of the latest draft of the Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty shows us.


The treaty – currently being written and developed by twelve countries – could soon see ISPs liable for the activities of their users, extended copyright terms, and the act of circumventing Digital Rights Management (DRM) What Is DRM & Why Does It Exist If It's So Evil? [MakeUseOf Explains] Digital Rights Management is the latest evolution of copy protection. It’s the biggest cause of user frustration today, but is it justified? Is DRM a necessary evil in this digital age, or is the model... Read More technology criminalized.

Troublingly, the passing of the Trans Pacific Partnership Treaty could also threaten independent journalism – it contains provisions that criminalize the leaking of trade secrets.

Worried? You should be. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is draconian, awful and could cripple the digital economy. With that said, knowledge is power, and here’s what you need to know about this nightmarish treaty.

What Is The Trans-Pacific Partnership?

On the face of things, the Trans-Pacific Partnership looks quite innocent. The treaty – which is described as a ‘regional free trade agreement’ – aims to increase trade between twelve nations (including the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Mexico and China) by reducing and removing tariffs, as well as through ‘regulatory coherence’.

This essentially means ensuring that laws regarding certain topics are effectively identical in practice across each signatory country. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It could be argued that having the same laws for things like food safety, agriculture and workplace safety in Europe has contributed to higher goods standards in the European Union and streamlined internal trade.


However, this only works when the legislation being pushed is good, and serves everyone’s interests. And it’s only good when legislation is decided in the open, unlike the TPP, which is being discussed and debated in secret. And, as the leaked treaty posted by Wikileaks shows, the TPP is a horrendous piece of legislation.

What’s So Wrong With The Trans-Pacific Partnership

Whilst the Trans-Pacific Partnership could indeed increase trade and raise living standards in the signatory countries, they come with some pretty horrendous intellectual property provisions.

Anti-Circumvention Provisions

You could be forgiven for thinking that DRM is a dying beast What Is DRM & Why Does It Exist If It's So Evil? [MakeUseOf Explains] Digital Rights Management is the latest evolution of copy protection. It’s the biggest cause of user frustration today, but is it justified? Is DRM a necessary evil in this digital age, or is the model... Read More . After all, most digital music purchases that are made today are DRM free. Apple stopped releasing music encoded with its proprietary FairPlay DRM technology in 2009, whilst online services like GOG sell DRM free video games.



Yet, DRM still exists for some things, including for e-books, video and software. Whilst in the US it has been illegal to circumvent DRM for a long time, courtesy of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (which amusingly also made it illegal to unlock cell phones Is It Legal Or Illegal To Unlock My Smartphone In The US? Unlocking your cellphone is now legal in the United States thanks to a bipartisan bill signed into law by President Obama, but it only lasts until 2015. Care to learn more about the legality of... Read More ), the same is not true for countries who would be signatory to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

For the sake of fairness, it’s worth noting that the TPP does permit countries who ratify the TPP treaty to have exemptions written into law. Though, according to the EFF, the treaty states that these should be limited to specific use-cases, such as security researchers searching for a security vulnerability.

ISPs, Censorship and Liability

The role of the ISP is best described as that of a courier, or the post office. They’re not responsible for the contents of the packages they carry. They’re just responsible for ensuring they get from A to B.



The Trans-Pacific Partnership could threaten that principle.

ISPs would only retain their lack of responsibility if they signed up for a DMCA-style blocking system Chilling Effects – A Lesson In DMCA Takedown Notices The Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a major slice of law put in place by the United States government in order to crack down on piracy. Chilling Effects is an information portal and compendium... Read More , where content could be blocked without even a court order. Just an allegation and a demand.

The TPP – when completed – could also see copyright infringement become a criminal offense, even for noncommercial infringement. This is troubling when you consider that until recently, it’s been regarded as a civil matter. People found to be sharing and downloading movies and music have been sued, but seldom ever jailed. That could soon change.

Threats To Journalism

It should go without saying that some companies do things that are rather unpopular, and try their hardest to keep them a secret from the public as a result.


And it should also go without saying that some news organizations – like Wikileaks and The Guardian – have had to publish leaked company secrets when it’s decided that it’s in the public interest. This is the very nature of journalism.


So, it should trouble everyone that the TPP has provisions that could criminalize whistleblowing. From the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

A new, more detailed provision on trade secrets introduces text that would criminalize the unauthorized, willful access of a trade secret held in a computer system, or the misappropriation or disclosure of a trade secret using a computer system… No public interest exception, such as for journalism, is provided.

Extended Copyright Terms

In most countries around the world, copyright ownership is finite. After a set time-limit elapses – usually a set number of years after a work is created, or the creator dies – the work then goes into what’s called the public domain. This means that nobody owns the copyright on that work, and anyone is free to use that work however they see fit all without having to pay anyone.

Whilst the TPP allows countries to specify how long their copyright term is, it could potentially set a minimum limit of years. This could range from anywhere between life, plus 50 years, or life plus 100 years.


This is worrying, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it could see the copyright durations on everything from photography 6 Free Websites for Public Domain Images and Free Stock Photos Public Domain refers to material that is 'publicly available' and not covered by intellectual property or copyrights. In today's media, where visual art is abundant, there is a high demand for images, for example for... Read More , to classical music extended by a great many years.

But also, one should remember that it’s not just cultural works that are copyrighted. So are pharmaceuticals. When a ‘brand name’ drug lapses into the public domain, it means that people can produce that drug very cheaply as a generic. Should the Trans Pacific Partnership treaty extend copyright law, it could see people pay much, much more for medicines.

As a result, it shouldn’t come to anyone’s surprise that the pharmaceutical industry has been lobbying heavily for the passing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

How Can I Fight It?

Defeating the Trans-Pacific Partnership will be hard, but it’s not impossible. Firstly, inform yourself on the treaty by actually reading what it says. Secondly, support those fighting against it, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation in the United States. Finally, contact your local senator, congressman and parliamentarian, and let them know your thoughts on the matter.

Have you got any thoughts on the Trans-Pacific Partnership? Let me know. Drop me a comment in the box below.

Photo Credits: Censorship via Shutterstock, DRM (Noah Hall), Ethernet (DeclanTM), The Guardian’s Redesign (Gigijin)Copyright (TakomaBibliot)

Related topics: Digital Rights Management, Internet Censorship.

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  1. Andy
    October 30, 2014 at 11:21 pm

    To protect copyright is right, but the treaty is going far too far. The current copyright years for books, etc., should be kept in place with the option for authors or those they leave their copyright to, to be extended and have a month's grace to extend the said copyright beyond the original dates applied. Additionally, to restrict temporary copies on RAM, temp files, etc. may go too far. How are researchers, writers, journalists and authors supposed to do research if they cannot see copies of the research found? What is being strongly missed by the treaty is that all works, regardless of whether online or offline are copyrighted, whether registered or not. Additionally, make it such that if a temporary copy is desired, that the person desiring the copy has to contact the author of that original copy and ask permission, but also make it law that author has to provide their contact information so that they can be contacted directly to be asked for permission and that failure to provide said contact information prevents them from being lawfully allowed to post their works online. Fair is fair in the media world. I agree that all software, music and photos should be protected accordingly, but it is up to the creator, author, photographer and artist to determine what level of copyright they wish to hand out, which is basically what is in place now. Anything that predates the final decision of this treaty is not therefore protected by the treaty and it is up the authors, artists, etc. to formally post copyright information with their items to inform everyone publicly as to the copyrights of those works, and be mandated to keep a formal copy of that posting for legal purposes. The problem that the treaty poses is that by saying even temporary copies, which is far too vague, they may include such copies and quotes as found in the media, thus restricting media coverage. Also, in some cases, software companies issue free copies for people to try, even ones that last for months or years. It is too much, too late, but that does not mean that these issues cannot be resolved. Frankly, criminalizing temporary copies that already exist, though in principle fair, may well be opening up a pandora's box as most of these countries putting in these requests for changes and such restrictions are in themselves 3rd world countries with communist tendencies. I do hope our western nations that are participating in such actions are not becoming communist. What is most concerning is that communist style action is being taken to hide the talks and the contents of the negotiations and to stop public, business or corporate input. Such behaviour is what one would expect of the former Soviet Union. Though again, it is important to protect intellectual property, extremist communist measures are not the way to go and could without question severely impede the economies of those countries concerned as no one outside of the treaty would deal with them. This could and will affect business investment and more in the countries concerned, as well as business in general as those who use intellectual property may well go elsewhere in the world for more democratic and fair laws. Protect intellectual property by all means, but do not become communist and destroy North American democracy.

  2. Rich
    October 21, 2014 at 9:13 pm

    I've been trying to noise this issue about using material from, but I'd like to ad this to the repertoire. But I do not subscribe to any social media. Too bad you don't provide a forwarding mechanism that uses simple email.

    • Matthew Hughes
      October 25, 2014 at 8:42 pm

      Hey Rich,
      That's an interesting point. Thanks for your comment!

  3. Bruce
    October 21, 2014 at 8:39 pm

    most DRM and copyright provisions are in place to protect against sales of unauthorized intellectual properties not against personal use or enjoyment a sticky thing considering one may have their enjoyment through the making available to others as themselves.

    • Matthew Hughes
      October 25, 2014 at 8:42 pm

      Well, DRM is often something executed quite hamfistedly. I bought digital music (ironically from Napster) in the 00s. It was terrible. Terrible and restrictive.

  4. GG
    October 21, 2014 at 5:20 pm

    Internet freedom is not the freedom to steal copyrighted content.

  5. GG
    October 21, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    My work (video clips) is continually stolen, shared for free or even sometimes resold. So I have a different view, sorry! So, welcome to any measures that will help enforce copyrights.
    Btw, I find the DMCA rules absurd since they require the legitimate owner of any material to prove ownership, but they never require such proof to people posting stolen material online for sharing. The legitimate owner is threatened in case he is making a false statement, while the poster of stolen material does not incur any risk at all and can start posting the same material again within minutes after it has been taken down.
    Is Internet freedom the freedom to steal?

    • Matthew Hughes
      October 25, 2014 at 8:40 pm

      I'm sorry, the burden of proof should always be on the person making the accusation of wrongdoing, not the other way around.

      I sympathize, but I can't agree with you. Sorry.

    • michel
      October 25, 2014 at 10:15 pm

      No, he's right - the poster should have to prove ownership. Or at least declare it.

  6. pete kilgannon
    October 21, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    people in the UK can join the fight here :

    • Matthew Hughes
      October 25, 2014 at 8:40 pm

      Cheers Pete! 38 Degrees are cool. I'd also suggest anyone concerned join the EFF, or the Open Rights Group in the UK. I hear GetUp! in Australia is also making a lot of noise about the TPP.

  7. Alun Hassall
    October 21, 2014 at 1:16 am

    It would have been interesting to read in your article which countries are promoting which clauses in the TPP.

    • Matthew Hughes
      October 25, 2014 at 8:39 pm

      That'd be challenging, given that it's still very much a work-in-progress, and there are a lot of clauses, each with opposition and support from different countries.
      Your best bet is to look at the leaked document on Wikileaks!

  8. Tim Brookes
    October 20, 2014 at 11:51 pm

    Here's a video from one of my favourite YouTubers about how the TPP has far wider reaching consequences:

    Great article Matt :)

    • Matthew Hughes
      October 25, 2014 at 8:38 pm

      Cheers Tim! Much appreciated!

  9. Kannon Y
    October 20, 2014 at 9:08 pm

    I really like your ability to summarize complex issues, Matthew!

    Something to add -- I've heard that TPP is a supranational law -- meaning, it trumps domestic legal processes. It throws out the window any chance of local governments overturning portions of TPP that are later found to violate the constitution or domestic political processes.

    • Matthew Hughes
      October 25, 2014 at 8:32 pm

      That's spot on, Kannon. Thanks for your comment!

      You rock!

  10. michel
    October 20, 2014 at 5:25 pm

    What about other types of creation, like building a company, or a house? Should that property fall into public domain, too? Not all of us whose work is protected by copyright are getting rich. Far from it.

    • Matthew Hughes
      October 25, 2014 at 8:29 pm

      I'm not sure I follow. All copyright eventually falls into public domain.

    • michel
      October 25, 2014 at 10:11 pm

      I was replying to A41202813GMAIL, with whom you seem to have agreed. Five years is ridiculously short. Be fair, people have to make a living. I was also showing the essential unfairness of it expiring at all - no one else's business or property is routinely taken from them or their heirs. I realize people think some giant corporations are getting unjustly rich, but the value of most copyrights (for fiction, anyway) usually increases only after a number of years - that's how long it takes for a book or author to gain a large audience. If the copyright expires before the property has commercial value, then only those corporate giants will make any money (off the film version, say) and the author gets nothing. Copyright isn't stealing from you, it's protecting me.

    • A41202813GMAIL
      October 27, 2014 at 3:09 am

      I Am A JOHN DOE Computer Programmer.

      I Keep Selling My Work To Large Companies, And Let Them Worry When And How To Collect Future Royalties.

      I Have Several Options, All Others Have Too.


    • android underground
      October 29, 2014 at 11:13 pm

      The house or company doesn't fall into the public domain. Expiration of copyrights and patents just gives others the right to create a similar house or company. The original house/company you built is not taken from you.

    • michel
      October 30, 2014 at 10:57 am

      Yes, it is, in the case of intellectual property. When my novels fall into the public domain, anyone may sell them without paying me. Can I come live in your house or take profit from your business?

  11. A41202813GMAIL
    October 20, 2014 at 1:57 am

    Copyrights And Patents Should Be Public Domain 5 Years After The First Sale - No Exceptions Whatsoever.

    If The 'Creators' Want To Continue To Squeeze The Money Cow, They Have That Time Frame To 'Create' Something Else.


    • Matthew Hughes
      October 25, 2014 at 7:29 pm

      I can't really argue with that. ;)

  12. Tiffani Poyser
    October 19, 2014 at 6:22 pm

    This site doesn't really violate the copyright laws at all, it's just a really innovative informative site to help the Everyman.:)

    • Matthew Hughes
      October 25, 2014 at 7:28 pm

      Thanks for the kind words, Tiffani! We really appreciate your support, and your readership.

  13. Michael Dowling
    October 19, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    This monstrous treaty is no surprise to me.I have been following it's progress through OpenMedia:

    • Matthew Hughes
      October 25, 2014 at 7:29 pm

      Yeah, it's horrible. Can't argue there! Thanks for your comment!

  14. Tiffani Poyser
    October 18, 2014 at 7:31 pm

    Will this site be affected, because I truly hope not.:)

    • Matthew Hughes
      October 19, 2014 at 6:15 pm

      I shouldn't think so. ;) Thanks for the kind words Tiffani!

  15. michel
    October 18, 2014 at 7:30 pm

    Isn't it already illegal to steal trade secrets? And, it was my understanding that drugs are protected by patents, not copyright - these are two different things. I could go on, but one last thing: few international treaties, or laws of any kind, are actually developed in public.

    • Matthew Hughes
      October 19, 2014 at 6:17 pm

      "Isn’t it already illegal to steal trade secrets?"

      Probably, although this removes any sort of public interest defense. It makes the work of whistleblowers much, much harder.

      "few international treaties, or laws of any kind, are actually developed in public."

      And that's absolutely terrifying.

    • michel
      October 19, 2014 at 7:06 pm

      "And that’s absolutely terrifying."

      But it's not new, by any means. Nor is it limited to this treaty. It's the way your government, my government, everybody's government has always worked. There's nothing new or innovative about this treaty as far as I can see. This is the way the world is, has been and will be. I appreciate that it's not ideal, that perhaps we should all rise up in protest, but we won't, will we?

    • Matthew Hughes
      October 19, 2014 at 7:07 pm

      Probably not. American Idol is on. It's cold outside. People have got to work to pay off their student loans. Protest? Bah.