Digital rights advocates' worst fears were confirmed on Friday morning after the finalized intellectual property chapter of the massive Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal was leaked by Wikileaks, just days after talks concluded in Atlanta.
Under the agreement, it appears that internet service providers could be forced to block websites hosting content that infringes copyright.
The leaked copyright chapter of the TPP is just a portion of the text that all 12 negotiating nations agreed upon; the rest of the agreement will remain a closely-guarded secret until the full text is released in the coming months.
According to the leaked text, Canada was able to preserve its more measured takedown system, compared to the US at least, which is based on notifying all parties before any action is taken. But it comes at a cost: internet service providers must "remove or disable access" to content upon "becoming aware" of a decision by a court that says the content infringes copyright. According to internet legal expert Michael Geist, that court order could come from any TPP signatory.
"Canada didn't take a very strong stand on many copyright issues"
"The broadly worded provision could force Canadian ISPs to block content on websites after being notified of a foreign court order—without first having to assess whether the site is even legal under Canadian law," Geist wrote in a blog post this morning.
That means that if a US court were to, say, find that a popular filesharing website was distributing copyrighted Hollywood movies, ISPs in all TPP countries would be compelled to block access to that site.
Until now, leaked drafts of the agreement's chapters have been outdated works in progress, leaving commentators guessing as to which provisions would actually be left in the final document.
But while the TPP text may be finalized, the agreement must still be ratified by the governments of all signing countries, which could push back against the agreement's provisions or even abandon the deal altogether. At the very least, it's possible that the content blocking stipulation could be reevaluated and clarified, Geist said, but it's unlikely.
"Canada didn't take a very strong stand on many copyright issues, it would appear," Geist wrote me in an email. "Not sure of the interest in doing so later."
The leaked chapter also confirms that US negotiators succeeded in pushing for extended copyright terms—70 years plus the life of the author, for all countries, which include developing nations like Malaysia, Peru, and Vietnam.
The rest of the TPP chapters will be released in the coming months, President Barack Obama stated on Monday, and if the leaked copyright chapter is any indication, more nasty non-surprises will be waiting.