Have you ever sat in front of your computer and watched parody after parody of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe”? Or perhaps found a guilty pleasure in perusing some choice Lost fan fictions? Can you just not get enough dramatic gopher to really satisfy you? Well, then the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is sure to be a huge storm cloud on your digital horizon.
TPP is a trade agreement that Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States, and Vietnam (with Canada and Mexico joining negotiations and Japan perhaps soon to follow) have been working on since 2009. While little is known about the current incarnation of TPP, since negotiations are kept strictly behind closed doors, a leaked version of the agreement dated February 2011 has alarming and disturbing implications for Internet users internationally.
TPP includes an intellectual property (IP) chapter, which will internationally strengthen copyright laws. According to the 2011 TPP, all signatories will have to re-write any current intellectual property right laws on their books to comply with the agreement. To put it simply, anything organic, chemical, or artistic can be patented, and after that will be under lock internationally unless the owner of the material gives explicit permission for it to be used. In terms of pharmaceuticals, this stipulation means that if an American company has patented a certain chemical combination, it will be illegal for a company in Canada to produce the same compound and sell it at a lower cost (say goodbye to generic medication and hello to always paying full-price).
For the Internet’s cultural creation, the consequences of the IP chapter will most likely be dire. Items like song mash-ups, abridged video summaries of TV shows, image macros, and fan fictions will be outlawed and subject to criminal charges. TPP will make no distinction between commercial and non-commercial violations of copyright laws, so the teenager who makes a Fight Club GIF will be subject to the same penalties as a corporation that rips off an advertising campaign.
TPP demands that signatories provide incentives for Internet service providers (ISPs) to police copyright infringement and report alleged cases to the government. ISPs will be required to limit or terminate service to anyone caught in the revised act of piracy, and will be expected to censor any material that allegedly defies the IP chapter. If an Internet user through caught pirating multiple times, the ISP will be required to terminate their contract. ISPs will become cyber-cops, policing the once Wild West of information sharing, and reporting any and all suspicious behavior to a judicial body.
If the IP chapter of TPP remains intact, the Internet will change forever, as user created content will no longer be viable most of the time. Sites such as Reddit, Tumblr, and even 4-Chan lose their remarkable two-way communication with big media. The IP chapter will seriously damage the ability for the masses to create, transform, and perpetuate the media and culture that they would like to see.