Public Knowledge Twaddles Re. NAFTA Negotiations

Back in May, I reported that Cory Doctorow, “writing” for Boing Boing, literally invented a legislative process out of whole cloth in order to portray the CLASSICS Act as an 11th-hour bill written by Senator Orin Hatch. (Not even close.) But not wanting to be outdone in the dissemination of drivel, the group Public Knowledge bested Doctorow yesterday with a post headlined Public Knowledge Responds to President Trump’s Outrageous Copyright Giveaway, in which they claim that the tentatively renegotiated NAFTA with Mexico would add another five years to the U.S. copyright term, resulting in life of the author plus 75 years.

Most egregiously, PK cites itself as a source (i.e. its own Global Policy director Gus Rossi) to sate, “The inclusion of a copyright term extension in the trade agreement announced today is a staggeringly brazen attempt by the entertainment industries to launder unpopular policies through international agreements.”

That is a brazenly false statement. Not only is there no evidence to support the claim that the “entertainment industries” are pulling strings in this NAFTA reneg; if indeed they were, they’re doing a lousy job of obtaining a copyright term extension because the USTR has not agreed to anything of the kind. Near as anyone can tell, this Public Knowledge outburst, claiming that NAFTA 2.0 would add five years to the copyright term is the following hobbledehoy sentence from a USTR press release:

• Extend the minimum copyright term to 75 years for works like song performances and ensure that works such as digital music, movies, and books can be protected through current technologies such as technological protection measures and rights management information. 

Albeit a woefully vague statement, it does not say anything about “life of the author,” can best be interpreted to imply a flat term of 75 years for sound recordings, and would, therefore, not be an extension of anything in U.S. law. In fact, 75 years would comport to Mexico’s term for sound recordings (and other works), which is 20 years shorter than the U.S. term for works without authors (e.g. works made for hire).

With regard to Rossi’s allegation of “laundering policies” through Fair Trade Agreements (FTAs), this is a false representation of the actual procedure. The USTR does not have the authority to “sneak” a revision of any U.S. statute by means of an FTA. Ratifying trade agreements requires a legislative process in order to ensure that their provisions either conform to existing law or that existing law may be appropriately amended through debate and public disclosure. In other words, Public Knowledge has plenty of time to get its facts straight before spinning tales, let alone noisy ones that seek to leverage Trump criticism as a means to vilify copyright law.

An organization cannot call itself a public-service while lying to the public—perhaps least of all when the word “knowledge” is part of that organization’s name. We are already swimming in a sea of bad information, barfed up in glib, thoughtless tweets—I propose to call this twaddling from now on—and it is no less destructive to the Republic when so-called progressive organizations dissemble than when any other party does it. Public Knowledge’s track record in this regard leaves much to be desired.

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