Politics are not my favorite thing to write about – far from it. Video games, however, are, and sometimes politics influence the video game industry. At the moment, the Trans Pacific Partnership, a trade deal that was negotiated behind closed doors, is about to do just that. On the surface, it is a trade agreement between the US and various countries along the Pacific, one of those being Japan. If you look a little deeper, though, you will be able to find out that some clauses of this agreement could very realistically affect the video game industry in such a way that will harm users.
Though Europe is not part of the TPP, this information is relevant for Europeans, since a lot of video games are made in countries that are part of the trade deal.
One of the first problematic aspects of the TPP deal is that, in the chapter on Intellectual Property, it is stated that terms benefiting the rightsholders are binding, but terms benefiting the consumer are not. This means that countries have to abide by the terms regarding the rightsholders, but they have no such obligation regarding consumers. It is stated that they should, not that they must. This principle is applicable to many things mentioned in the document.
For example there is article QQ.G.17, which mentions fair use. Fair use means that users can use copyrighted material to make parodies, write reviews, news, etc. In this article it is stated that countries should try to maintain systems that are fair in the regard of fair use. “Should” is the keyword here, as this benefits users and thus is not binding.
Article QQ.G.6 is an example of a binding aspect of the TPP that is beneficial to rightsholders. It states that all countries will extend their copyright terms to those that the US and EU already have: Life of author + 70 years. It will take that long before IPs will become part of the public domain. Countries do get some time to adjust, but eventually they all need to establish this rule. Though this law exists to protect the rights of authors and their families, it can also be used by companies to prevent the public from using their content for anything.
The next article that is relevant to gamers is QQ.H.8. which mentions the criminal prosecution of people who expose trade secrets. At first it doesn’t look like this has much to do with gaming, but think back to all the leaks of game information that have happened the past couple of years, which are still very common occurrences. The article states that the people who leak such information can be prosecuted, but it doesn’t specify that it only is about the person who grabs the data from a company’s computer. It may very well mean that everyone who posts the leaked data might be criminally prosecuted.
Section I states that there can be legal incentives for internet service providers to take down content. This is an action against piracy, but it can very easily be abused to force providers to take down content that is in nebulous areas and might fall under the fair use principle – but since rules for that principle are not exactly rules, but more like guidelines instead, countries are not obliged to take those into account.
One of the more heavy articles is QQ.G.10. It mandates a full ban on DRM circumvention. This means modding consoles, making ROM hacks, or even modding games can be dangerous. Note that this not only means that the people who make the tools to circumvent DRM are in the wrong, but also the people who use the tools, even if they do not share any material.
Finally there are articles QQ.H.4. and QQ.H.5. Those articles are about the civil and criminal punishments of copyright infringement. To start, there is no financial cap for the fines. It starts at the retail price of the concerning products, but companies can try to squeeze as much money out of the infringer as they can. In addition to that, the device used in the copyright infringement can also be destroyed, which all in all is very excessive. The punishment for infringement can get even higher if it happens on a “commercial scale.” What that exactly means is still vague, but it is specified that this isn’t equal to financial gain. This means that a mod which circumvents DRM and has been downloaded by a lot of people can be considered an infringement on a commercial scale.
You can take a look at the video above for an in-depth explanation, but take it to be very clear that the intellectual property section of the TPP is made to benefit the corporations that worked on establishing the trade deal, and not the consumers.