The Biggest Threat to Free Speech and Intellectual Property That You’ve Never Heard Of09/09/2012 18:19
As we have seen in the failed attempts of SOPA/PIPA, and the floundering Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, intellectual property (“IP”) laws are often poorly constructed, hastily proposed and ultimately both ineffective and potentially abusive.
Now, the latest threat to free speech in guise of IP reform is a multilateral trade agreement currently being negotiated (in secret) by the Office of the United States Trade Representative (“USTR”). That agreement—the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or “TPP”—would reportedly include dramatic changes to intellectual property laws, changes that could potentially permit the patenting of plants, animals, and medical procedures.
And, while some of the proposed changes run contrary to enacted federal law, the USTR is not only pushing for TPP, it is doing its best to avoid congressional oversight. For instance, they recently rebuffed a request from the staff director on the Senate Finance Committee's international trade subcommittee to review documents pertaining to the negotiations. Senator Wyden, chairman of the subcommittee, wrote:
[M]y office is responsible for conducting oversight over the USTR and trade negotiations. To do that, I asked that my staff obtain the proper security credentials to view the information that USTR keeps confidential and secret. This is material that fully describes what the USTR is seeking in the TPP talks on behalf of the American people and on behalf of Congress. More than two months after receiving the proper security credentials, my staff is still barred from viewing the details of the proposals that USTR is advancing.
USTR later gave in a bit and allowed the Senator himself to view the documents but still refused the staffer’s access.