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Citizens of the Internet Aren't Going Down Without a Fight

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As the 15th round of Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations draw to a close, the Internet freedom community is taking stock of what was said, and perhaps more significantly, what wasn't. Developments over the last few weeks suggest that the controversial treaty may be losing steam as public opposition gains momentum -- and there was plenty of opposition in evidence at the negotiations. The secretive agreement isn't ploughing ahead unhindered, and this is largely due to the actions of citizens and the Internet freedom community.

The Negotiations

There were plenty of underhand tactics used to shut the public out of the negotiations, as highlighted by Stop the Trap coalition members the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) -- negotiators cancelled the stakeholder tabling event without warning, and locked stakeholders out of the venue.

However stakeholders were still able to give presentations on one day during the negotiations, and several coalition members used this opportunity to bring public concerns to the attention of negotiators. Steve Anderson of OpenMedia spoke about the 121,000-strong StopTheTrap.net petition, and presented your comments from our tool at OpenTheTPP.net. Representatives of the EFF, InternetNZ, the Australian Digital Alliance, and ONG Derechos Digitales also presented.

Stakeholders also had the opportunity to ask tough questions of negotiators -- Knowledge Ecology International's detailed coverage of the question period illustrates negotiators' attempts to dodge, talk around, or flat-out ignore these questions. This ducking and diving highlights the contentious nature of the copyright portion of the treaty, which is a good thing for new joiners like Canada and Mexico, as the lack of consensus indicates that there is still opportunity for these countries to table their own proposals.

TPP's Growth Stunted by Public Outcry

Canada and Mexico were the two latest additions to the TPP negotiations in October, but since then the agreement's growth seems to be faltering as new countries seem reluctant to sign up. It was initially expected that Japan would be the next to join the negotiations, however as the EFF reports, business pushing for Japan's entrance into the TPP are facing widespread opposition from citizens and civil society groups.

Opposition to the TPP is also growing in Thailand, where civil society groups have argued that the agreement will endanger the rights of the Thai people. The White House recently welcomed Thailand's "interest in the Trans-Pacific Partnership," but the Thai government is hesitant to take on the "high-standard" or highly restrictive measures required in this agreement. Other reports have suggested that Thailand is still unconvinced, and is weighing up the pros and cons.

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Internal Disagreements

This hesitance occurs as disagreement is beginning to show within the leadership of those countries who have already joined the negotiations. The U.S. has been the main driver of the TPP, but last month the U.S. Republican Study Committee published (and following pressure from Big Media lobbyists, quickly retracted) a progressive report which argued against restrictive copyright measures and proposed reforms that directly contradict the rules being pushed by the TPP.

As Ottawa Law Professor Michael Geist notes, Canada had been heading in this more balanced direction with the long-fought-over Bill C-11. However the reaction to the progressive U.S. report suggests that "even modest reform recommendations face opposition from copyright lobby groups." This Canadian law will therefore have to be completely rewritten if the TPP comes into force. This seems to reflect the discussion at the TPP negotiations, as when Steve Anderson asked for a commitment not to overwrite Canada's new copyright legislation, the Canadian representative offered no guarantees.

It's becoming increasingly clear that Big Media is pushing its agenda through the TPP. However this approach faces growing opposition from citizens and advocacy groups, and this was clear at the negotiations. Throughout the week small demonstrations were held outside the negotiations venue, and a large national rally was held on Saturday.

The public outcry is starting to show the cracks in the push to criminalize our Internet use. Negotiators hope to conclude the talks by October 2013, but this round of negotiations made clear that there are still many contentious issues to be debated before then, including copyright provisions. It's more important than ever to keep speaking out to ensure these provisions are properly discussed, and not decided in a secretive, last-minute backroom deal.

Call for transparency and accountability for the TPP; sign the petition at StoptheTrap.net