When the North American Free Trade Agreement was signed in 1993, the internet economy as we know it today barely existed. Online content platforms such as Facebook and YouTube were a decade from launching and a few lucky users connected to the internet using dial-up. This week as chief negotiators from the United States, Canada, and Mexico meet to discuss progress on NAFTA, they are presented with the opportunity to set the rules of free trade for generations to come. This also includes setting the rules that will govern trade in the internet economy as well, an industry that generates more than $8 trillion in e-commerce each year.
From internet video stars to major technology companies, the internet economy has made the United States a world leader in internet innovation. If copyright is included in NAFTA’s renegotiation, balanced copyright provisions like fair use and safe harbors must also be included and explicitly defined in order to keep America winning online.
Given that the United States Trade Representative’s released objectives and news reports have indicated that copyright is part of the renegotiation, it is critical that we promote and continue with America’s current balanced system. A one-sided approach that focuses solely on enforcement measures will chill future creation online, while also putting millions of American jobs in jeopardy.
No provision in our current copyright system is more important than fair use. A cornerstone of free speech, fair use ensures that free expression and creativity can flourish, while protecting the very people and industries that benefit from it the most. Fair use benefits 18 million American workers, contributes $2.8 trillion to the economy and accounts for $368 billion in exports. It is an indispensable part of our economy and would render our current copyright system useless if it did not exist.
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These type of safe harbor provisions are essential to broadening access to information and entertainment. In 1995, there were only 40 million internet users worldwide, about the same amount as the current population of California. Today, over 3 billion people use the internet, a direct result of rules that provide online platforms with protection from liability, allowing further investment to create and test new ideas without worrying about increased liability claims and high barriers to entry.
It is no surprise that weakening such protections would have devastating effects. Not only would it reduce future investment to the formation of startups, preventing the next Yelp or eBay from growing, but it would have more immediate effects, eliminating 425,000 jobs and cutting $44 billion from the U.S. GDP each year.
If copyright law is going to treat enforcement measures the same as safe harbors and fair use, then there is no reason why NAFTA should not reflect the same standard. There is no balance in exporting heavy-handed enforcement measures while ignoring the other side of the equation. Our economy relies on a balanced and innovation-oriented approach to copyright.
There has been no better time for creativity and online innovation than the present day. Artists, authors, bloggers and publishers are creating more works on more online platforms than ever before, made possible by protections like safe harbors and fair use to ensure that everyone has an equal shot in the new creative economy. For the United States to get a better trade deal in NAFTA, we must promote America’s balanced copyright system and keep America winning online.
Joshua Lamel is the executive director of the Re:Create Coalition, a group of innovators, creators and consumers united for balanced copyright.
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