Lawmakers call for openness over Pacific trade deal IP measures

A bipartisan group of lawmakers plan to send the top U.S. trade negotiator a letter urging him "in the strongest terms possible" to reveal what intellectual property measures the U.S. is seeking to include in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). 

Much of the criticism surrounding the trade agreement has been centered on the secretive manner in which it has been negotiated. Public interest groups and lawmakers have argued that American citizens have been kept in the dark about the provisions U.S. negotiators are pushing to include in the TPP and what the current text of the intellectual property rights (IPR) chapter in the agreement looks like. 

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To that end, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.) call on U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk in the letter to publicly release "detailed information" about the provisions negotiators are trying to secure in the agreement that relate to intellectual property enforcement online. The lawmakers argue that a "poorly-constructed" IP chapter runs the risk of constraining freedom of expression on the Internet and how people collaborate and share content online, which would ultimately erode Internet freedom. 

"We believe that among all the areas of the TPP negotiations, the matters considered in the IPR chapter are ones in which there is particular public interest, therefore the USTR should be especially transparent and collaborative with the general public on these issues," the letter reads. "The American people deserve to know what the administration is purportedly seeking on its behalf."

The letter was first made public by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a cyber liberties group, and posted on its website. 

Wyden, Issa, and Polis--along with EFF--are pushing other lawmakers to sign onto the letter, which they plan to send to Kirk as early as next week. All the three lawmakers have been critical of legislation and trade agreements that aim to introduce stringent new online copyright rules. They notably helped lead the charge against a pair of anti-piracy bills that were shot down earlier this year. 

The letter also calls on USTR to describe the measures it's seeking include in the TPP about the online sale of pharmaceutical drugs and whether it's "pursuing disciplines elsewhere" in the agreement "that will promote an open and free Internet."

The actual text of the trade agreement has been kept under tight wraps by countries participating in the negotiations, with the exception of the occasional leak. The public interest group Knowledge Ecology International posted what it claimed was a leaked section of the IP chapter on its blog early last month.

Web companies, content producers and public interest groups have been keeping a close eye on IP chapter in the agreement, which would help dictate how negotiating countries enforce copyright protections for digital content like movies, music and books. It would also affect how Internet services and platforms are regulated.

The latest negotiating round of the TPP is underway in Leesburg, Va. and will conclude on Sept. 15. USTR is holding an event on Sunday where industry and public interest group representatives will be able to meet with negotiators and share their views about what types of provisions should be included in the agreement. The trade agency will also host a briefing on the agreement for these stakeholders on Sunday.

The eight other countries participating in the TPP negotiations with the U.S. are Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Canada, Japan and Mexico have also been invited to join the negotiations.