There Will Be ‘Serious’ Risks for Hollywood if Trans Pacific Partnership Doesn’t Pass, U.S. Trade Rep Says

Michael Froman Trans Pacific Partnership
Courtesy of United States Trade Representative

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said that Hollywood will see big benefits from the Trans Pacific Partnership in the form of common standards for protection of content and enforcement of copyright across 12 Pacific Rim countries.

Froman, who visited Capital Records and the Independent Film and Television Alliance on Monday, noted that the agreement will require some countries to raise their copyright terms to 70 years, from 50 years, bringing their length of protection in line with the United States.

He talked about the risks of not having the trade pact in place. “I think it is serious one” without the TPP, Froman told reporters, pointing to movies like “Sound of Music,” “Dr. Zhivago,” “Ship of Fools” and “A Patch of Blue,” which are bumping up against the 50-year term in some countries.

“That are all 1966 vintage, which without TPP will be off protection next year,” he said.

In addition to the United States, other signatories to the agreement include Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

The trade agreement is pending before Congress, but it has become a lightning rod in the current presidential campaign. It is opposed by Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, and Republicans Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, who have largely pointed to other provisions.

But Froman said that members of Congress of both parties are taking a hard look at the trade agreement and how it may benefit their constituents, as well as other stakeholders.

“They are making that judgment largely on that grounds, and they are hearing from constituents, both what is in it for them and what is the risk if it doesn’t happen, and whether those markets go to other countries,” he said, adding that they were “optimistic about getting this done.”

Hollywood studios and the recording industry have been champions of the TPP, as it would establish more uniform protections for intellectual property in the face of rampant online piracy.

Other provisions try to bring uniformity in intellectual property enforcement, as countries are required to have a set of criminal or civil penalties in place. If a country doesn’t fix its enforcement practices, another country can eventually seek trade sanctions.

The pact also requires countries to establish a system for notice and takedown — akin to the safe harbor provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. That hotly debated portion of U.S. copyright law shields Internet providers from liability as long as they meet certain conditions, including promptly removing material upon notice. The trade pact does not require ISPs to monitor the Internet for infringing activity.

“One thing we have tried to do is be a little less prescriptive in TPP than we have been in some of our previous trade agreements,” Froman said. “We have created a bit more flexibility in how countries address the issue. They key issue is that countries need to have a system that effectively allows content to be taken down if it is infringing, and there are a number of ways to get at that.”

Jean Prewitt, president and CEO of IFTA, said that the goal is to make sure that there is a notice-and-takedown system in place in every country, even if it does not spell out specifically how it should work. “Any trade agreement is a floor, not a ceiling,” she said.

The agreement also prohibits the imposition of customs duties on electronic transmissions,” and also prohibits countries from “favoring national producers or suppliers of such products through discriminatory measures or outright blocking.” Froman said that is important to the digital economy and the free flow of data across borders.

He also noted that it includes restrictions on camcording movies in theaters — which has been a big source of online piracy.

Froman said that a risk for the U.S. is that without the agreement, others may set the “rules of the road” for trade in the Pacific region, pointing to China. It has been negotiating its own trade pact with 16 other countries, but without strong intellectual property protections and a “commitment to a free and open Internet,” he said.