It's Copyright Week! From today through Saturday, a number of groups around the Web will be exchanging ideas, information, and actions about how to fix copyright law for the better. Each day will be devoted to a different aspect of copyright law. For more on Copyright Week, see here.
Today's focus is on transparency. More than ever, copyright policymakers must improve transparency in copyright policy–including both listening to and talking to the public.
As copyright law increasingly touches so many aspects of our economy and day-to-day lives, it’s crucial that our copyright policies are formed openly and publicly. Copyright law affects everyone—both when creating and experiencing copyrighted works—and so everyone should have the opportunity to inform themselves about and give input on the policies promoted by our representatives in government. But especially when we see copyright policy being pushed into secretive massive trade agreements, it is clear that the fight for transparency in copyright lawmaking is not over.
Right now this debate is beginning anew as Congress considers giving “fast-track” authority to the United States Trade Representative (USTR) for the trade agreement the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). As Public Knowledge has chronicled, the TPP has been negotiated in unprecedented secrecy, with the notable exception of its industry advisor groups, who have ample access to the TPP’s text and the US’s negotiating positions.
The USTR has protested that it has been transparent by virtue of allowing members of the public to speak to speak to negotiators. But this misses the point. Transparency is a two-way street. Transparency is not just listening to the public, it’s being open and accountable to the public too.
Members of the public will have no way of knowing whether their representatives in government are actually advancing their interests if they can’t see what those representatives are doing. That’s why Public Knowledge is one of 32 public interest groups urging world leaders to conduct the TPP negotiations transparently, and it’s why consumer advocates have been keeping an eye on the nascent process for a new Transatlantic free trade agreement.
Especially at a time when Congress is beginning the process of potentially overhauling US copyright law, copyright policy—whether in international agreements or in domestic law—must be set openly and transparently. Every member of the public has a stake in the outcome of our debates on copyright policy, and so the government must conduct those debates transparently.
To be clear, simply allowing input from the public is not enough. The US government must actually tell the people it represents what is going on. This is how the public is able to make informed opinions about copyright proposals, and it’s how the public can hold its government accountable for the policies it supports.
Copyright is simply too important and touches too many aspects of our lives to let it be crafted without public engagement. From the halls of Congress to the USTR, we must demand that our government operate transparently and serve the public’s interest first.