Three tech associations oppose Obama IP effort on anti-counterfeiting deal

In what could be a major blow to the Obama administration’s intellectual property efforts, three key tech industry groups urged it to rethink a trade agreement on copyright infringement.

The Consumer Electronics Association, TechAmerica and the Computer & Communications Industry Association plan to oppose the current draft of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement.

Though the groups favor copyright enforcement, they worry the agreement will not include copyright exemptions that currently benefit some technology companies under American law.

The agreement may lack a "fair use" standard that allows using copyrighted content in limited circumstances. Google, for instance, relies on this exemption to store Web content in its search engine memory.

The groups made their opposition known in a letter this week to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk.

The lack of "fair use" could make American tech companies vulnerable to repercussions abroad, they said.

“We would expect the administration to be as concerned as we are about the existing trend of foreign countries imposing unjustified civil and criminal liability on U.S. technology companies and their executives,” the groups wrote.

The tentative agreement has been panned by consumer activists as serving corporate interests.

The companies left the door open to supporting a narrower version of the trade agreement, “one focused on preventing the proliferation of counterfeited trademarked goods — in particular those that endanger public health or safety.”

But tackling digital copyright, they said, allows the process to become “enmeshed in [...] highly contentious issues.”

The copyright agreement is being negotiated by Australia, Canada, the European Union, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland and the United States.

It has raised ire in many countries for the secrecy surrounding the negotiations and for suspicions that it will impose tougher standards for intellectual property theft internationally. Amid rising pressure, the negotiating countries released a draft in April.

Public interest groups have raised concerns in the United States that draconian digital piracy rules could be imposed that would hurt individuals while protecting the interest of big companies.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative has expressed commitment to seeing the process through, but has indicated that disagreements over enforcement measures have held up a final agreement. The partner countries hope to conclude the process this year.