Who’s Afraid of the TPP?

Ever heard of the Trans-Pacific Partnership?

Okay, if you’re an internet issues follower, then yes, you’ve heard of these international trade negotiations still underway.  If you’re one of the other 180 or so million adult Americans, you probably haven’t.  And that works out to be very convenient for the self-proclaimed protectors of Internet freedom, if you’re inclined to believe the Obama Administration is chomping at the bit to whittle away your First Amendment rights at the behest of Hollywood movie moguls.  WikiLeaks just leaked what its editors seem to think is a damming excerpt from the trade agreement, and Mr. Assange has warned:

 “If instituted, the TPP’s IP regime would trample over individual rights and free expression, as well as ride roughshod over the intellectual and creative commons. If you read, write, publish, think, listen, dance, sing or invent; if you farm or consume food; if you’re ill now or might one day be ill, the TPP has you in its crosshairs.”

Ordinarily, that much hyperbole from the mouth of someone as transparently self-serving as Assange is its own weakness, but we’re about to see the blogosphere swell with headlines warning that the TPP is just like SOPA! Beware!  The fact that the leaked excerpt is already out of date notwithstanding, we can agree without even seeing current drafts that the agreement-in-progress does have one thing in common with SOPA:   it won’t affect your rights one wit.  Since the US began Fair Trade Agreements in 2000, not a single one has effected a change in US IP law. And without a change to US law (and by the way SOPA didn’t change domestic law either), how exactly is my dancing in the crosshairs, as Julian Assange insists?  I mean my dancing sucks, but I don’t think the USTR gives a damn.

Let’s be clear, the internet industry lobbies for and tries to sell the public a world view in which all activity online exists outside any law; and there is no way they’re not going to gin up fear over any trade agreement that covers intellectual property. And there won’t be any trade agreements that don’t include intellectual property because, so far anyway, IP is big business, quite possibly a business where you work right now. Meanwhile, Julian Assange maintains his apparent relevance by selling a lot of smoke and claiming there’s always a fire.

In all seriousness, any citizen so inclined should certainly pay close attention to these or any other trade negotiations and do so through less hyperventilating sources. I prefer other soporifics, but we all have our tastes.  One thing that will not, however, be keeping me up is a concern that the USTR is presently engaged in chilling my or my children’s or my neighbor’s right to free expression.  And you know why?  Because free speech can’t be taken away as easily as certain self interests would have you believe.  Dostoyevsky was executed by firing squad*, and we still read Dostoyevsky.  Tell me a trade agreement unfairly favors a multi-national over a small business, and I’m listening, but tell me it threatens my right of free expression?  Let ‘em try.

* No he wasn’t. See comment from Musician below and my response. I think the larger point is the same. I could have made any number of choices — Lorca executed, Wilde jailed, Solzhenitsyn imprisoned, etc. — but Dostoyevsky’s execution here is greatly exaggerated.

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