A rollercoaster called the TPP

Over the weekend, the Trans-Pacific Partnership was again in the news. A series of different stories veered between very different potential outcomes. It was finally concluded. It was dead, because Canada had called talks off. It was alive, but in a different form. For me, these stories felt a bit like a rollercoaster ride. That's because this agreement with its shifting names has been a big part of my work over the past couple of years.

InternetNZ is a voice for the Internet in New Zealand. We explain how the Internet can benefit people, and work to protect and extend those benefits. The Trans-Pacific Partnership came into that because it demanded member countries, including New Zealand, adopt particular rules on intellectual property and electronic commerce. We worked to analyse these rules, and our concerns shifted as the shape of the agreement changed.

Like a reinvention-oriented rock star, the TPP has had several identities throughout its life. It began in 2005, with negotiations between Brunei, Chile, Singapore, and New Zealand. From 2008, more countries joined: Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, the United States, and Vietnam. These different countries wanted different things from the agreement, and pushed for new demands on member countries. Among those demands were changes to domestic laws on copyright, driven by the United States. As the biggest risk to the benefits of the Internet in New Zealand, these copyright changes became a key focus in InternetNZ's work on the TPP. Secrecy surrounding negotiations made this a challenge at times.

We think creators are awesome, and don't have a problem with copyright in general. The Internet has made it much easier to make and market content, to reach audiences, to learn skills which other people will value. We see huge potential for creators to use the Internet, and for many copyright is part of that.

We did have a problem with copyright term extensions, and with punitive digital lock rules.

Proposed term extensions from "life plus 50 years" to "life plus 70 years" would have increased the overall cost of content for New Zealanders. That money would go mainly to overseas distributors of existing works, with limited if any effect for creative New Zealanders making new works.

Proposed "digital lock" rules would have disadvantaged consumers, who could have faced legal liability for using ad-blocking or security software online, for skipping DVD advertisements, or for transferring purchased media to a preferred device. These rules could ultimately lock people in to a particular company's products, undermining the competition and innovation which the Internet enables.

The good news is where the rollercoaster has got to. At the APEC meeting in Vietnam, negotiations have changed the Trans-Pacific Partnership into the "Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership". Under this re-worked agreement, provisions on copyright term and "digital locks" are suspended. That means New Zealand can join the agreement, without adopting these rules that were against our interest. Other changes address broader concerns well-covered in the media, for example reducing the ability of investor businesses to sue governments for domestic policy moves.

This is a win for New Zealand. The final agreement, like all previous stages, will be a compromise. For now though, it seems the consistent work of New Zealand's negotiators, plus a last-minute push by Canada, have helped us arrive at a better agreement, which removes the bits with the biggest effect on the Internet in New Zealand.

InternetNZ will continue to follow the CPTPP, working to promote the Internet's benefits, and protect its potential for New Zealand.