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China ponders joining controversial IP trade treaty

Trans-Pacific Partnership proposes copyright extensions, patent silliness

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China has signalled it may consider joining the group of nations negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade treaty that has attracted extensive criticisms for its proposed reforms to copyright law and other intellectual property regulations.

China's People's Daily reports that Ministry of Commerce “spokesman Shen Danyang” told a press conference “We will analyze the advantages, disadvantages and the possibility of joining the TPP, based on careful research and according to principles of equality and mutual benefit.”

Despite being billed as a “free trade treaty”, the TPP has attracted criticism for including many restrictive measures.

This analysis, published last week by Angela Daly, a research fellow in media and communications law at Swinburne University of Technology, sugegsts the treaty could represent “a knockout blow for innovation”.

Daly says Article 4 of the treaty “prohibits the circumvention of technical measures which are used to protect copyrights. These measures include the restrictions on music files which prohibit the user making copies, on DVDs which prevent the DVD being played in a different region, and on e-books which stop them being read aloud by the computer.”

The draft text of the treaty is also reported to contain proposals to extend copyright to 70 years beyond an author's death, allow patents for new uses of existing inventions and prevent parallel importation.

We say “reported to claim” above because the text of the treaty is currently secret. The 12 nations negotiating the treaty haven't released drafts, leaving occasional leaks the main source of information about what the treaty might mean for citizens of signatory nations. Negotiating nations' websites offer scant information other than bland pronouncements the treaty will lead to greater prosperity.

The Diplomat says China's expressed an interest in joining the treaty because the US-driven project is one of America's efforts to get closer to Asia. Joining in therefore eases bilateral trade. The fact that Japan has just joined up may have something to do with China's move, too.

Whatever the motivation, the likes of the Electronic Frontiers Foundation are watching the negotiations as closely as is possible given they happen behind closed doors and don't result in the publication of any official communiqués. Which is just how Beijing likes to conduct a fair bit of business, until it appears in the pages of the People's Daily.

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