Mickey hijacks a treaty
Obama’s friends in Hollywood try to rewrite copyright protections
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.