Copyright Week: The Need for Transparency

Written by Andrew McDiarmid

In the week leading up to Saturday’s anniversary of the SOPA blackout, EFF is leading “Copyright Week.” Every day this week, participating organizations will be highlighting a different principle to guide the development of balanced, innovation- and free expression–friendly copyright policy.

Today’s theme is transparency. We’ve been writing a lot lately on the importance of transparency when it comes to the government’s surveillance practices. The massive global scale of the NSA’s and other intelligence agencies’ surveillance activities means everyone has a direct stake in surveillance policy. That’s why, in the wake of ongoing revelations of secret programs, CDT has helped lead an effort to expand what the government and communications companies can share about the scope of surveillance activity.

With the rise of the Internet and digital media, copyright too has become more and more directly relevant to the day-to-day lives of the general public. Decisions that once largely affected only artists and the companies that produced and distributed copyrighted work increasingly have an impact on the development of critical communications technologies and how we all use them to exercise our own right to free expression. It is therefore more important than ever that copyright policy be established through open, inclusive, democratic processes that invite input from all affected stakeholders.

Unfortunately, one area where the parameters of copyright policy are often negotiated is also quite secretive – international trade negotiations. Trade agreements like ACTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, hammered out in secret, have included provisions that directly shape signatories’ copyright policy. Working from leaked texts, CDT and other advocates have pointed out how the provisions that get included reflect an unbalanced perspective of copyright policy that favors strong protection and enforcement over things like limitations and exceptions that leave breathing room for innovative uses of copyrighted works. After-the-fact commentary on the basis of leaks is no way for policy with such broad potential impact to be made.

To get copyright policy right – and to ensure that the public it affects accepts it as legitimate and balanced – trade negotiators and other policymakers must recognize that getting more input from a broader range of perspectives is essential.

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