Too often, media and policymakers take seriously the claim of government officials that secret trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) promote and protect “Internet freedom,” even though the traditional guardians of Internet freedom–users and innovators who rely on it–have said precisely the opposite. Unfortunately, that’s likely because some large tech companies have joined the negotiations and have implicitly given these deals their blessing. Now that they’re at the table, companies that once stood with users have gone silent, while others now emphatically support TPP and President Obama’s effort to push the agreement through without appropriate public review. We’re disappointed to lose their support, but that’s not the biggest problem. Our policymakers need to get one thing straight: Big tech companies do not speak for the Internet.
Digital Innovation and Balanced Copyright
Of course, major tech players and users have often made common cause when it comes to copyright. During the fight to defeat the SOPA, large companies including Twitter, Facebook, and eBay stood with users, as did Google, Zynga and others. The Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), a trade organization that represents tech companies including Google, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, and Yahoo!, cogently argues on its issue page:
Copyright reform can ensure the law does not discriminate against new industries in favor of legacy industries . . . U.S. policymakers must . . . ensure that as U.S. businesses enter markets abroad they are not subjected to liability for products, services, and content that are lawful in the United States.
We agree. Indeed, it’s statements like that that led some to hope that users and the largest tech players could make common cause on TPP. For example, many technologies and services born in the U.S. would not exist if not for the principles of fair use. The TPP contains a weak framework for copyright exceptions and limitations, called the three-step test, but fair use is nowhere to be found in the agreement.
Nonetheless, some tech companies are supporting TPP and Trade Promotion Authority–the Fast Track kiss of approval for unbalanced and opaque trade negotiation processes. Even Google, while explicitly acknowledging that the legislation “does not on its face fully reflect” the administration’s supposed commitment to balanced copyright, ultimately supported Fast Track.