The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the United States, Canada, and Mexico was negotiated more than 25 years ago.
Over the past quarter century trade has changed drastically, especially online, so the United States is now planning to modernize the international deal.
Various copyright industry groups recognized this as an opportunity to demand tougher copyright enforcement. The MPAA and RIAA previously presented their demands, proposing various new limitations, including restrictions to the existing safe harbor protections against copyright infringement claims.
While no concrete plans have been made public yet, the U.S Trade Representative (USTR) recently gave an overview of its NAFTA renegotiation objectives. The language leaves plenty of wiggle room, but it’s clear that strong copyright enforcement takes a central role.
“Provide strong protection and enforcement for new and emerging technologies and new methods of transmitting and distributing products embodying intellectual property, including in a manner that facilitates legitimate digital trade,” one of the key points reads.
It is no surprise that copyright enforcement plays a central role in a possible extension of NAFTA. However, according to the Re:Create Coalition, which includes members such as the the Consumer Technology Association, the American Library Association and EFF, future proposals should be more balanced.
This means that if copyright enforcement is included, the US Government should also make sure that fair use, safe harbor protections and other copyright limitations and exceptions are added as well.
“The United States government should promote balance in copyright law to unlock the fullest potential of innovation and creativity globally, and to help U.S. innovators, creators, and small businesses reach foreign audiences.” Re:Create Executive Director Josh Lamel tells TorrentFreak.
“If a re-negotiated NAFTA includes a chapter on copyright, which seems likely, it must have mandatory language on copyright limitations and exceptions, including fair use and protections from intermediary liability.”
The USTR stressed that the NAFTA agreement should cover copyright protections similar to those found in US law. If that is the case, the coalition urges the US Government to ‘export’ fair use and other copyright limitations as well, to keep the balance.
Strong enforcement without balance could lead to all sorts of abuse, according to the Re:Create coalition. Just recently, a Colombian student faced a hefty prison sentence for sharing a research paper on Scribd, something which would be less likely with a proper fair use defense.
“Trade agreements should reflect the realities of the world we live in today. If strong intellectual property protections and enforcement measures are included in a trade agreement, so should exceptions and limitations to copyright law,” Lamel says.
“You can’t have one without the other. Furthermore, the copyright system cannot function effectively without fair use, and neither can the U.S. economy. 16 percent of the U.S. economy depends on fair use, and 18 million U.S. workers across the country are employed in fair use industries.”
In addition to fair use, Re:Create argues that DMCA-style safe harbor provisions are essential for Internet services to operate freely on the Internet. The RIAA wants to restrict safe harbor protection to limit copyright infringement and abuse, but the coalition believes that these proposals go too far.
If the RIAA had its way, many large Internet service providers wouldn’t be able to operate freely. This would result in a loss of American jobs, and innovation would be stifled, Re:Create notes.
“If you looked up excessive overreach in the dictionary, there would be a picture of the RIAA and MPAA submissions. Limiting safe harbors would be corporate cronyism at its worst,” Lamel tells TorrentFreak.
“The safe harbors are at the cornerstone of the Internet economy and consumer Internet experience. It would be an economic disaster. Recent economic analysis found that weakened safe harbors would result in the loss of 4.25 million American jobs and cost nearly half a trillion dollars over the next decade,” he adds.
While it’s still early days, it will be interesting to see what concrete proposals will come out of the negotiations and if fair use and other copyright protections are indeed going to be included. Re-Create promises to keep a close eye on the developments, and they’re certainly not alone.