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RCEP IP Chapter: A Serious Threat to Access to Knowledge/ Cultural Goods?

Posted by Arul George Scaria and Anubha Sinha at Aug 01, 2017 03:24 PM |
Negotiators from sixteen countries are currently meeting in Hyderabad for discussing a free trade agreement titled Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

The blog post was published by Live Law.in on July 27, 2017.


Looking at the latest available IP chapter (leak dated October 15, 2015), RCEP stands to adversely affect nearly half of the world’s population on areas like access to knowledge and access to medicines. We would like to highlight five issues related to access to knowledge/ cultural goods, based on the leaked IP chapter.

Clear neglect of users’ rights

As different scholars and courts have tried to point out, copyright is not just about the rights of creators, but also those of users. The agreement will hurt this balance embedded in our copyright law. The balance within the copyright system is ensured by a set of limitations and exceptions which permit free uses for purposes like education, research, etc., thereby serving interests of students,researchers, educators, computer programmers, and persons with disabilities. Studies have also pointed out that industries that depend on limitations and exceptions also contribute substantially to economic growth. For example a recent study (by Computer and Communications Industry Association) in the US found that companies that extensively rely on limitations and exceptions, like media device manufacturers, software developers, internet search and web-hosting providers, and educational institutions, represent one-sixth of the US GDP. Thus, it follows that when countries revise their copyright legislations they should make sure that it fairly benefits right holders as well as users, and not just benefit right holders at the expense of the users which is what is transpiring at RCEP. The language of the agreement indicates that while it is mandatory for countries to increase protection for right holders, a commitment to restore balance via limitations and exceptions is only optional or worse, absent.

Broadcasters' Rights

The provisions regarding broadcasters’ rights also pose many concerns. First, RCEP engages in term extension without providing any economic rationale. The minimum term of protection stipulated under the Rome Treaty of 1961 (the major multilateral treaty in this area) is 20 years and India provides a term of 25 years for broadcasters rights.

The attempts to increase the term of protection to 50 years through RCEP, without conducting any impact assessment of the term extension on access to knowledge and cultural goods, is against public interest. Second, WIPO has been attempting to  evolve a multilateral treaty on broadcasters’ rights for the last two decades and one of the major stumbling blocks in this regard is the lack of consensus among member states on what should be protected under the ‘broadcasters’ rights’ for purposes such as educational uses and private uses. RCEP provisions on broadcasters’ rights have conveniently ignored such exceptions and this again illustrates that the focus of RCEP is only on protecting the rightholders and not that of users.

Copyright enforcement

Many of the enforcement related provisions are as problematic. This includes proposals for taking into consideration suggested retail price (SRP) or market value of goods for valuation of the infringing goods as well as for making available pre-determined damages for copyright violations on the election of the right holder. In jurisdictions like the US, this has resulted in local courts being forced to grant millions in damages for even minor copyright infringements. It is also important to mention here that some of the enforcement related provisions can also result in serious privacy violations. This includes the suggestion for adding obligations on internet service providers to disclose to the rightholders the identity of users suspected to be engaging in infringing activities.

Ensuring transparency and accountability

The most troubling aspect of RCEP is that all the negotiations are being conducted in utmost secrecy without any public participation. Though the negotiators have already completed eighteen rounds of discussion, the negotiating text hasn’t been released officially and neither been a subject of parliamentary discussion nor public consultation. The public has a right to know what is being negotiated on their behalf and countries like India must take steps to release the negotiation text without any further delay. It is important to note that all these TRIPS-plus measures are being suggested without any consideration for the potential negative consequences on the society and therefore India must resist these TRIPS-plus provisions.

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