Mickey hi­jacks a treaty

Obama’s friends in Hol­ly­wood try to re­write copy­right pro­tec­tions

The Washington Times Daily - - Editorial -

The most “trans­par­ent ad­min­is­tra­tion in his­tory” has a stunted un­der­stand­ing of free trade. A treaty called the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship would de­ter­mine how Amer­i­cans lis­ten to mu­sic, watch movies and use the In­ter­net. It was writ­ten in se­cret by Hol­ly­wood and the ad­min­is­tra­tion to pro­tect the usual sus­pects.

The rogues at Wik­iLeaks ob­tained a draft copy of the agree­ment and put it online where, to the con­ster­na­tion of the White House, ev­ery­one can read it. The doc­u­ment sug­gests the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion may not be as in­ter­ested in stim­u­lat­ing economies through ex­panded trade op­por­tu­ni­ties as in lend­ing a hand to Demo­cratic cam­paign con­trib­u­tors in the movie and record­ing in­dus­tries.

Un­der the deal, Hol­ly­wood stu­dios would have the au­thor­ity to is­sue or­ders to any sig­na­tory na­tion for the re­moval of any Web page, and with­out ju­di­cial re­view. Com­pli­ance would be manda­tory, for “ex­pe­di­tiously re­mov­ing or dis­abling ac­cess, on re­ceipt of an ef­fec­tive no­ti­fi­ca­tion of claimed in­fringe­ment.”

The au­thors of the Con­sti­tu­tion, quaint old fel­lows as they were, thought copy­right pro­tec­tions use­ful, and that in­no­va­tors should be re­warded for their work, but they clearly never re­garded this as an un­lim­ited right or ab­so­lute grant of power. The Founders be­lieved that for the good of so­ci­ety, the pub­lic must be al­lowed to build upon the dis­cov­er­ies of oth­ers to ad­vance sci­ence and the arts. At the na­tion’s birth, it was enough to en­able a song­writer to en­joy the fruit of his cre­ation for 14 years. If he wanted more roy­al­ties than that, he could write another tune.

Hol­ly­wood has what it thinks is a bet­ter idea, once ex­pressed by the late Jack Valenti, the long­time lob­by­ist for the movie stu­dios. His goal, he said, was to ex­tend copy­right to last “for­ever, less one day.” Congress com­plied, grad­u­ally ex­tend­ing pro­tec­tions to the cur­rent 70 years be­yond the au­thor’s life. Each ex­ten­sion was care­fully crafted to en­sure that Mickey Mouse, for one ex­am­ple, wouldn’t en­ter the pub­lic do­main.

The new treaty would fur­ther ex­tend pro­tec­tions so that Mickey, born to Walt Dis­ney in 1928, won’t en­ter the pub­lic do­main un­til 2048, giv­ing lob­by­ists three decades to buy another ex­ten­sion. The treaty un­der con­sid­er­a­tion now would erase the Con­sti­tu­tion’s re­quire­ment that copy­rights last “for a lim­ited time.” Eter­nal copy­rights would be granted as a fit­ting me­mo­rial to Mr. Valenti’s no­tion.

Pres­i­dent Obama wants Congress to ap­prove “fast-track” au­thor­ity for the treaty, which would re­quire an up-or-down vote within a set num­ber of days, with lim­ited de­bate and with­out amend­ment. This would en­sure that any spe­cial in­ter­est with the clout to ne­go­ti­ate in se­cret to get a pet pro­vi­sion tucked into the deal would be shielded from Congress.

A coali­tion of left and right are work­ing to­gether to pre­vent quick ap­proval. Democrats gen­er­ally aren’t friendly to trade deals, and 151 of them have writ­ten to the pres­i­dent to op­pose fast track. Twenty-two Repub­li­cans in the House, led by Rep. Wal­ter Jones of North Carolina, are balk­ing, too, for dif­fer­ent rea­sons. “Some of us,” says Mr. Jones, “have op­posed past trade deals, and some have sup­ported them, but when it comes to fast track, mem­bers of Congress from across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum are united.”

Knock­ing down trade bar­ri­ers is al­ways good, in­creas­ing the flow of goods be­tween na­tions for the ben­e­fit of all, but in this case the process has been hi­jacked by the lob­by­ists Mr. Obama promised would not in­flu­ence his ad­min­is­tra­tion. Now it ap­pears that he had crossed his fin­gers when he made that prom­ise, too. Congress has a duty to op­pose any treaty that un­der­mines the in­tent of the Con­sti­tu­tion.

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