Go to Prison for Sharing Files? That’s What Hollywood Wants in the Secret TPP Deal

Excessive criminal copyright rules are what we get when Big Content has access to powerful, secretive rule-making institutions which would be codified by so-called "free trade" deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership. (Image: EFF)

The Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP) poses massive threats to users in a dizzying number of ways. It will force other TPP signatories to accept the United States’ excessive copyright terms of a minimum of life of the author plus 70 years, while locking the US to the same lengths so it will be harder to shorten them in the future. It contains extremeDRManti-circumvention provisions that will make it a crime to tinker with, hack, re-sell, preserve, and otherwise control any number of digital files and devices that you own.

The TPP will encourage ISPs to monitor and police their users, likely leading to more censorship measures such as the blockage and filtering of content online in the name of copyright enforcement. And in the most recent leak of the TPP’s Intellectual Property chapter, we found an even more alarming provision on trade secrets that could be used to crackdown on journalists and whistleblowers who report on corporate wrongdoing.

Here, we’d like to explore yet another set of rules in TPP that will chill users’ rights. Those are the criminal enforcement provisions, which based upon the latest leak from May 2014 is still a contested and unresolved issue. It’s about whether users could be jailed or hit with debilitating fines over allegations of copyright infringement.

Dangerously Low Threshold of Criminality

The US is pushing for a dangerously broad definition of a criminal violation of copyright, where even noncommercial activities could get people convicted of a crime. The leak also shows that Canada has opposed this definition. Canada supports language in which criminal remedies would only apply to cases where someone infringed explicitly for commercial purposes.

This distinction is crucial. Commercial infringement, where an infringer sells unauthorized copies of content for financial gain, is and should be a crime. But that’s not what the US is pushing for–it’s trying to get language passed in TPP that would make a criminal out of anyone who simply shares or otherwise makes available copyrighted works on a “commercial scale.”

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