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Open Internet

A Couple Letters on I.P.

The jury is very much still out on how the Obama Administration will approach intellectual property issues in the online environment. That’s not a complaint — I understand it has a few other things on its plate, like, say, health care reform, Afghanistan, the economy, and so forth. But CDT and some allies sent two letters this week aimed at getting things off on the right track.

The first concerns ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. It urges USTR to recognize that the Internet and information technology portion of the treaty — rumored to be weighing such hot-button topics as ISPs’ responsibility for controlling or supervising their users’ activities — is simply too controversial and affects the interests of too many parties that haven’t been privy to the talks. It just isn’t suitable for prompt resolution, and its inclusion in an agreement that may move quickly would only risk ill-conceived provisions that would harm technology companies and users. The letter also asks for USTR to stop treating the specifics of the negotiations as state secrets (it’s hard for CDT or anyone else to provide meaningful feedback when we’re not allowed to know what proposals are even on the table) and to include Internet companies and public interest groups in the trade advisory committee system.

The second letter, going out today, concerns the proper relationship between intellectual property and cybersecurity. It’s actually a simple relationship: while one can conjure up a few narrow scenarios with some overlap, the two are fundamentally separate issues. That might seem like a straightforward proposition, but the report of the Administration’s cybersecurity review team contained just enough references to “intellectual property” to raise the potential specter of the eventual White House cybersecurity advisor wading into i.p. issues under the guise of cybersecurity. Our letter warns against that: there’s going to be both an I.P. enforcement coordinator and a cybersecurity advisor in the White House, and there is no reason to start confusing or conflating their respective roles.