It seems the TPP is getting perilously close – as is the less well-known European version the TTIP. And I am getting increasingly bombarded with emails from my various activist groups about it, all exhorting me to fight and fight harder if we are to have any hope of preventing some of the worst corporate damage in history!
It would be nice to think that I and others are worrying unnecessarily – and that the fears are overblown. Reading through the EUs own web page on the subject, one might even be convinced that is the case, if it wasn’t for one major point. Why is it that what may be some of the biggest deals in history are being negotiated in such attempted secrecy that even now so few people really know they exist or that they are at all significant? To my mind, that fact alone gives plenty of reason to worry. It suggests that those involved have a very good reason for keeping the public in the dark about it as much as possible. They know it would not stand up to scrutiny. They have a guilty conscience, in other words.
What we do know only seems to back that up. The businessmen and politicians talk of economic benefits, but the activists and watchdogs promise horror stories in the truest sense of the term – the perversion of what we have, and the deeper entrenchment of much that is wrong with the world and the resultant dwindling of our chances of improvement. The death of the internet as we know it and the final signing over of the world to corporate control and commercialism.
I remember these agreements from the days when we knew nothing about them at all, but the organisations and public that keep a wary eye on the world were so worried about the extreme secrecy that there was actually a totally crowd-sourced bounty of $70,000 offered for a leak of the TPP draft. Are there any other comparable times in history when the public has actually come together to ‘buy’ a whistleblower like that? That is also a somewhat strange indication of the world we are moving into – where we both need to and CAN do such things. At any rate, that leak eventually came, and in the years since then we have begun to get a look at these things that have been brewing behind closed doors.
There are two distinct but connected sides to the worries about this. On the one hand, we have people deeply concerned about freedom of expression and creativity being stifled by a drastic and draconian increases in intellectual property and copyright regulations. As an artist, that is of course of great concern to me – but the other side of this is potentially even more serious in that it represents a signing over of power to corporations on a scale unique in history.
The 30,000 word leaked chapter on Intellectual Property came as a shock, though a somewhat familiar one, threatening to increase the stranglehold already enforced on information, sharing and expression, complete with the old familiar enforced policing by ISPs and draconian and incomprehensible copyright regulations – the sort of things we have been fighting for years coming back again like heads of the Hydra. We can see where this is going online because, quite simply, the internet has already suffered massive damage and the glory days of the web as a carefree place to be yourself, exchange ideas and information are long gone. Now the net is shot through with dirt or threats of dirt on every level – spying revelations, censorship, filters, self-censorship / paranoia, postmodern prudery, prosecutions for expressing opinions, damaging copyright laws etc. It seems that even as it just began to flicker into being, an end is nigh for any kind of truly free sharing of information and freedom of expression, as well as any kind of escape from or alternative to corporate control. Will we ever be able to find that glorious freedom that the internet stood for again without constantly having one eye over our shoulders?
These agreements should be seen as one part of the negative progression, just one more nail in the coffin of the internet, given that this is what the corporate world has been striving for for years – and if so, it could be a decisive one. A kind of last wound that brings it down. One of the things about the internet is that, unlike when you are sitting there being fed information as you are from a TV, you are in charge and thus you can never know the consequences – just about anything you do online COULD POSSIBLY be illegal and there is rarely any way to know for sure. Remember the days when they were trying to crack down on BitTorrent file sharing, and the only advice they could give was ‘the only way to be sure you are not breaking the law is don’t use it’? Yes – their only response to the problem was to suggest shutting down an entire technology – which was approximately equal to shutting down email to stop people sending spam messages. That was an extreme case, but it is symptomatic of the entire internet. Many of the things we naturally want to do online and offline may also become illegal. That video you watch and put on facebook? That image you find and share? That quote you take of something you love? That thing you want to show your friend? That inspiration you draw on as an artist or that criticism or satire? It doesn’t really matter to them. And with the powers provided by this new system, entire websites could vanish or entire families could be kicked off the internet for nothing more than a blunder, to say nothing of the times when such things are totally justified – e.g. allowing access to stuff you can’t see any other way, either because distributors can’t be bothered to distribute or (infinitely worse) because they are locked up by region coding, censored in your part of the world or in your language, or even just chained up in some ‘rights’ or other that are always entirely bureaucratic and no benefit to the artist or those passionate about it.
This of course, is of especial concern to anyone involved in the arts since, even offline, creativity is also increasingly stifled by intellectual property (which is increasingly becoming a dirty word for any artist), which represents a very worrying trend in the world. Entire art forms are already ruined by over-regulation and more will follow, with art itself seeming more and more like a subversive and quasi-underground act. True collage or found art, cosplay as a hobby, fan fiction, any sort of direct satirical art etc., all these are all either threatened or could be threatened. Fan fiction (as an example) may not seem a very significant area, but it’s a harmless chance for some people to be creative and I have to ask, if a character or concept has become a household word, then why should people not be able to reference it in their own creativity if they wish, either as a homage, satirically/critically, or just as a bizarre pop-culture reference? And preventing artists commenting on much of the real world (without playing that weird satirical game of finding ways for the audience to get the message without ever actually saying it) also seems extremely damaging. This piece of street art is a good example. This is something that is already only possible anonymously on a wall otherwise the number of potential lawsuits would be quite large. This is why anonymous street art is often seen as the purest remaining artform, and the last thing we need is more types of creativity following it into the underground. Collage and art using found objects, some types of independent film, even street photography, though that is somewhat removed from the subject of this article – anything that either doesn’t want to or can’t play the commercial game, basically.
But of course, this is not just about art and censorship, though as an artist that is one thing that bothers me deeply. Another big worry is the serious increase of power that these agreements threaten to give to corporations at the expense of the poor and even of governments themselves. One aspect that bothers is the stranglehold of Big Pharma at the expense of affordable medicines in the developing world. And similar things with patents controlling farming and the cultivation of food. But perhaps the spookiest thing so far comes from our own European TTIP, the way it would give corporations the power to actually sue governments if they implement regulations that could be damaging to them – i.e. environmental or public health matters. That is, governments could be sued for keeping corporations from damaging natural nature, trying to control polluting or other industrial damage, increasing the minimum wage, animal welfare, trying to implement other laws that promote fairness at the expense of their pockets.
I don’t want to be over-dramatic, but these two agreements are starting to seem to be up there among the scariest things to have come along in my lifetime.
I quote Assange, from a while back but maybe still relevant: “If instituted, the TPP’s intellectual property regime would trample over individual rights and free expression, as well as ride roughshod over the intellectual and creative commons. If you read, write, publish, think, listen, dance, sing or invent; if you farm or consume food; if you’re ill now or might one day be ill, the TPP has you in its crosshairs.”
We have already seen off several of these horrible plans and agreements and proposed legislations – SOPA and PIPA and ACTA spring to mind, but they were nowhere near as big as these seem to be. Maybe we can kill or neutralize this one too, since the controversy is only growing – and it is also important to remember that it is still being argued, still in draft form. It may be that those who are insisting on the more draconian inclusions (the USA seems a major culprit, again playing the role of the world’s supervillain) will be overruled, especially if enough people provide pressure.
Myself though I am starting to despair! As an artist, as one who really believes in the potential of the internet, and simply as one who wants to see a world that works far far better than it does now. But there seems such an inevitability about this march of commercialism and control that I wonder if there is really any point hoping? If this is beaten, then wont there just be another – and then another – and then another – as long as the world functions the way it does? Until the internet is just another totally controlled drip-feed like TV, corporations really do possess more power than countries and money is the ultimate controlling factor.
But anyway, I would urge people to at least stand up and be counted here. Easing trade between nations (which is the avowed goal of these agreements) is a very good aim, since the world is indeed ridiculously complicated, ridiculously unfair and far too bound up by national boundaries. But can’t we negotiate such things without smuggling through additional problems like this? And is there any reason at all why a trade agreement cannot be decided on with complete transparency and openness – and fairness and progressiveness? Maybe these things don’t need to be destroyed – merely reformed so they can do no damage. Or maybe they should indeed be destroyed because can we ever really trust the forces that are trying to shape our world, either political or corporate? I honestly don’t know.
 WikiLeaks publishes secret draft chapter of Trans-Pacific Partnership – http://www.theguardian.com/media/2013/nov/13/wikileaks-trans-pacific-partnership-chapter-secret
 This transatlantic trade deal is a full-frontal assault on democracy – http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/04/us-trade-deal-full-frontal-assault-on-democracy
 The lies behind this transatlantic trade deal – http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/dec/02/transatlantic-free-trade-deal-regulation-by-lawyers-eu-us
 nottip.org.uk – About TTIP – http://www.nottip.org.uk/aboutttip/
 The Hidden Threat of the TTIP Deal - http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-d9e2-The-hidden-threat-of-the-TTIP-deal
 TTIP: 9 Risks Clegg And Farage Won’t Tell You About The US-EU Trade Deal – http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/04/02/ttip-us-eu-trade-deal_n_5050117.html
 TPP Leak Confirms the Worst: US Negotiators Still Trying to Trade Away Internet Freedoms – https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2013/11/tpp-leak-confirms-worst-us-negotiators-still-trying-trade-away-internet-freedoms
 3 things you need to know about sharing and collaborating online - https://openmedia.ca/blog/3-things-you-need-know-about-sharing-and-collaborating-online