Australian internet service provider iiNet has joined a list of 100 global businesses, including some of the world’s largest web companies, to condemn provisions proposed in the secretive trans-pacific partnership (TPP) they say will significantly constrain legitimate online activity and innovation.
The controversial free trade agreement, which involves 12 Asia-Pacific nations including Australia and the US, has been negotiated in secret since its inception.
Leaked documents have caused anger among digital rights activists and online service providers due to the reported inclusion of intellectual property provisions - including the US’ push for criminal penalties for illegal downloads - they claim will force internet service providers to monitor and police their users’ online actions.
A coalition of more than 100 web companies and digital rights groups this week penned an open letter to the trade ministers and legislators negotiating the deal, raising concerns that online service providers would be forced to act as “internet cops” if the copyright proposals are enacted.
The result could mean smaller providers being put out of business, as well as higher costs for customers, the group argued.
Australian ISP iiNet joined the likes of online forum Reddit, blog BoingBoing, and image hosting service Imgur, along with global software entity ThoughtWorks and local lobby groups the Australian Privacy Foundation (APF) and the Australian Digital Alliance (ADA), to protest against the ‘tough new burdens’ the TPP threatens to impose.
The letter will be handed to TPP arbitrators today during negotiation talks in Ottawa, Canada.
It urges those drafting the TPP to reconsider the inclusion of user disconnection and website take-down and blocking provisions.
“Irresponsible rights holders can burden intermediaries with many thousands of automated takedown requests every day, using systems that operate with little or no human oversight. These systems rely on a 'takedown first and ask questions later' approach to pages and content alleged to breach copyright.
“Burdening these service providers with these new liabilities could also add new costs that may be passed onto Internet users. These automated systems have also led to many forms of legitimate speech being taken down, even when they are protected under fair use.”
The group instead proposed two alternate models to “better protect the joint interests of tech services and users” - a “notice and notice system” which removes the need to block access to content; or a judicial notice and takedown system, in which a formal application would have to be made to determine whether alleged infringing content is in fact unlawful.
“We hope the final language provides proper flexibility for nations to establish these kinds of takedown systems, as they continue to reevaluate and reform their legal frameworks in response to new technological realities.”
iiNet has been a vocal opponent to changes to copyright legislation which would put the onus on ISPs to clamp down on illegal downloads, such as those being currently considered by the Australian Government.
Attorney-General George Brandis has previously signalled an interest in forcing ISPs to co-operate in a three-strikes graduated response system when a user is accused of pirating copyright-protected material - a scheme which has been unsuccessful in a number of countries throughout the world.