Leaked documents take the axe to consumer rights

Are you one of the hundreds of thousands of Australians who could face new criminal penalties for illegally downloading content under the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership?

Just months after more than 100,000 Australians illegally downloaded the latest season of Breaking Bad, the Federal Government is considering an international trade agreement that could criminalise this activity.

“CHOICE is deeply concerned at a proposal from the United States to expand criminal liability for copyright infringement. This would mean that domestic non-commercial infringement could become a criminal act,” says CHOICE CEO Alan Kirkland.

“While CHOICE condemns copyright infringement, we certainly don’t agree that an individual downloading Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones for personal use should be open to criminal prosecution.”

CHOICE has also renewed its call for greater transparency on the Trans-pacific Partnership (TPP) after leaked drafts showed that consumer rights could be undermined in the secretive trade agreement.

A newly leaked draft, posted on the website Wikileaks, comes less than one month after CHOICE launched a public campaign for the TPP texts to be made available to the public.

“We have raised several concerns over the risks of poor outcomes for consumers as a result of the TPP negotiations, and those concerns are magnified today,” says CHOICE CEO Alan Kirkland.

“The United States appears to be proposing a raft of measures that would be disastrous for Australian consumers if they made the final text. This includes a ban on parallel importation, which involves purchasing products from overseas retailers and shipping them to Australia.”

“While we are pleased to see that Australian negotiators are opposing this, we continue to have concerns that the TPP could entrench other copyright provisions which contradict recommendations made by the IT Pricing Inquiry.”

The recent bipartisan Parliamentary report, At what cost? IT pricing and the Australia tax, recommended that the government consider changes to copyright law to offer consumers greater protections when they circumvent online geo-blocks, measures that prevent Australians from accessing certain international content online.

However the leaked draft appears to show Australia seeking to lock-in copyright provisions that limit consumers’ ability to get around these virtual walls that sustain higher prices.

CHOICE is also disappointed that Australian consumers have to rely on leaked texts to obtain information on the agreement.

“On behalf of our members and consumers more broadly, CHOICE wants to have input into this wide-reaching agreement. Ideally, this would be through open debate.”

“We renew our call on the Australian government to move towards transparency by allowing consumers to see drafts of the TPP,” Mr Kirkland says.

The lack of transparency in the TPP was highlighted last month when a number of journalists were dis-invited from a ‘public’ TPP briefing held by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Sydney. After a backlash, the Department changed its mind, allowing journalists to attend in a “private capacity”.

Today CHOICE has released its own analysis of what the TPP could mean for consumers.

Many provisions appear to go beyond even the draconian measures of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, which was dramatically rejected last year by the Australian Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, pending a National Interest Analysis on several of its provisions.

CHOICE also continues to encourage Australians to sign its petition demanding greater transparency in the TPP negotiations.