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The Courts

Video The FSF's Donald Robertson Talks About Secretive Trade Negotiations (Video) 32

Donald Robertson, is the Free Software Foundation (FSF) copyright administrator (and wearer of several other hats as well), so he's the FSF person to turn to when you want to discuss trade agreements, how they are negotiated, and how info on these (typically) secret) goings-on get leaked so that we can see what our negotiators are up to. And don't think, even for a second, that the TPP is the only trade agreement our government is working on, or necessarily the worst. After that, we learn how Don Robertson hooked up with the FSF and got what may be the best job in the world for an attorney who likes (and uses) GNU/Linux. (And for more, check out yesterday's interview with Mr. Robertson.)

Timothy Lord for Slashdot: Now one thing I would like you to talk a little about is the significance of leaks when it comes to actually knowing what’s happening with these trade negotiations.

Don ald Robertson from the FSF : Well, unfortunately the trade negotiations they are all done in secret, only certain companies and individuals get access to the actual text. Everybody else, if you want to know what the heck is going to happen with this thing, you either have to rely on a leak or you have to wait until the 60 days before the treaty is going to be put into law to get the actual public text of it. Even members of Congress are limited in what they can see of the text until right here at the end. Previously, they would have to go into a room and read the one copy that was available to them, whereas lots of companies and trade organizations have been involved in these talks for a long time.

Slashdot: One thing you mentioned today in your talk at SeaGL is a provision that would have specifically addressed software patents that appeared in some drafts but not subsequent ones.

Don: So in previous drafts of TPP there was a proposal for Mexico to specifically allow a country to exclude software patents from patentability in their own country. That proposal has now been removed but the general language involved in what countries need to provide in terms of software patent subject matter, the language is actually the same from a previous agreement, so the hope is that TPP is not going to mandate software patents in all these countries. For example, New Zealand has a law banning software patents that they just recently passed. There was a lot of panic that perhaps they were going to be forced to rescind that law, there is a general argument that TPP won’t do that, but we can’t quite be sure. We don’t know the reasoning behind why Mexico made this proposal in the first place, why it was taken out so it is very difficult for us to know exactly what it is going to do until it actually gets passed into law and we find out what the heck happens.

Slashdot: I think one thing that people don’t necessarily know is when there are ambiguities, how they are resolved.

Don: Well, the other big thing with TPP is that it is setting up a situation where these courts that were previously available in sort of other industries, which are called investor dispute settlement courts, are now available to companies involved in tech. So what these international or these supernational courts allow is for a company to be able to sue a government stating that their government’s policy or law is violating some aspect of the trade rule and needs to be undone. In the past, this has worked out very negatively, especially for smaller countries that don’t have the resources to fight back against the potentially very large multinational corporations and the fact that it is now spreading to these other tech organizations that are obviously involved with software freedom issues this is a really dangerous situation.

Slashdot: What are some of the other agreements that are sort of coming down the pike?

Don: So there is a whole bunch. Off the top of my head, we got TTIP, I can’t think of what the acronym stands for, we got TISA, CETA, there is a whole bunch coming down the pipeline. It is similar to what we had with SOPA and ACTA and FISA where we just keep seeing the same things coming through again and again and again. It is a very difficult situation. You are kind of on a treadmill fighting these things all the time.

Slashdot: Do any of the ones that are expected right now, do any of them have greater dangers in your mind than does TPP?

Don: No, I don’t believe that they do. They have a lot of the same provisions as TPP but just the fact that TPP is happening so fast, it is really the greatest thing at this point.

Slashdot: Don, let me ask you one more thing: Explain a little bit about how you came to be in this line of work, because there aren’t many job openings let’s say.

Don: Well, I started using free software about 15 years ago, I got a my mom had bought me a computer it didn’t work with the operating system that came installed and a friend from the computer science department introduced me to GNU Linux the old version of Red Hat I got very interested in the legal background on it, and particularly the copyleft aspect of it, that was a really cool act. So when I went to law school, I studied a whole lot in this area, studying copyright, patents, actually wrote my article for Law Review on works of software and it just so happened that there was an opening at the FSF right when I graduated and I looked into it a little bit – but it is something I was very interested for a long time. So, very fortunate to be at the FSF.

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The FSF's Donald Robertson Talks About Secretive Trade Negotiations (Video)

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  • Looking down the comment section I have to admit, it seems the whole TPP reporting starts to worry someone, we sure got a LOT more astroturfing going on now than usual.

Man is the best computer we can put aboard a spacecraft ... and the only one that can be mass produced with unskilled labor. -- Wernher von Braun