Home opinion-and-analysis Open Sauce Australian copyright law will be decided in Washington

Australian copyright law will be decided in Washington

Another round of talks to finalise the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement will conclude next week, this time in Dallas, Texas.

Australia's copyright policy will be decided by the final form of this agreement – which will, in turn, be decided by the Americans who are driving the talks. The eight other countries — Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam, Peru, Malaysia, Chile, Brunei and Singapore — are all pawns in the game.

The amazing thing about the TPPA is that there has been little or no commentary about it in the mainstream press. And those who do write about copyright and allied issues ignore, either wilfully or otherwise, the fact that Australian copyright policy will be made in Washington.

As, indeed, are all major laws that affect relations with the US. But then perhaps a sense of pride prevents Australians from acknowledging that when Uncle Sam says jump, Julia Gillard and her cabinet only meekly ask "how high, sir?" Nobody likes to think of their own country as being a vassal state.

The Americans want patents to last longer. They want stricter penalties on copyright violators. They want higher prices for pharmaceuticals. They want disputes which international (read American) companies have with a given country to be decided by a court in the US, not in the country in question.

And they will definitely get their pound of flesh from Australia. They have already screwed the likes of Mexico and Canada through the North American Free Trade Agreement.

It is not the people who want this, it is the politicians, who want to please their corporate sponsors. American people hate these treaties.

Moves to make Australian law more amenable to the Americans is going on apace. Two weeks ago, the head of the US Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, visited Canberra to sign agreements that gave the Americans more freedom to share private information about Australians which is held by the Australian government.

A number of other moves in Australia indicate the extent to which the government is bending over for the Americans. Last week, reforms that would allow for the retention of data collected from web histories of connected devices for up to two years were unveiled. Secret anti-piracy talks were going on sometime back to bring ISPs into line.

And earlier this year, legislation was amendedto make it easier to extradite Australian citizens for so-called criminal matters.

But still we have people lauding the verdict rendered in the iiNet case, when the copyright industry sued the ISP and got its backside kicked thrice. That verdict will be of no use as a precedent once new laws come in, courtesy of the US of A.

But aren't the Americans our greatest friends, I hear you ask. Don't we have a special relationship with Uncle Sam? Cast your minds back to 2004, when John Howard, who was more pro-American than even many Americans, decided to capitalise on what he considered his special relationship with George W. and sign a free trade agreement with the US.

Howard had to suffer humiliation after humiliation as request after request to get some benefit for Australia was rejected out of hand; even his last desperate plea to increase meat export quotas by a beggarly 100,000 tonnes was turned down by Bush.

In the financial year 2010-11, imports from the US to Australia totalled $26 billion while Australian exports to the US were $9 billion. That's free trade for you.

No Australia politician will stand up to the Americans and fight for Australian interests. When Gough Whitlam hinted that Australia would not renew the lease on the Pine Gap research (snooping) centre, we all know what happened.

When the Americans tried to ram the Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement down the throats of the EU, it didn't work. There were protests by the people and now it is highly unlikely that the treaty will be signed by Europe.

But what about those famously militant Australians? Surely, they would have protested too? As it turns out, Australia and Canada meekly signed the ACTA. It appears that the Australians were too busy going to the footy, the pokies or just getting drunk to even stage a symbolic protest.

The level of apathy that prevails in Australia — which is often mistakenly passed off as being laid-back — means that laws which curtail freedoms will continue to be put in place one after the other. There is no-one to blame except ourselves.


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.