Bloomberg syndicated a column yesterday critical of the international “race to the bottom” as national and local governments compete with varied incentives to land big budget film productions. This column begins by looking at concessions made by New Zealand to keep the new Hobbit movie in the country (“Kill the Hobbit Subsidies to Save Regular Earth“).
So how much taxpayer money, would you guess, did Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. need to produce the films based on the J.R.R. Tolkien book? The answer is zero. The studios are investment companies, and the films are almost certain to be immensely profitable.
But now you aren’t thinking like a studio. The real question is: How much taxpayer money can Warner Bros. demand from the government of New Zealand to keep production there (rather than, say, in Australia or the Czech Republic)? That answer turns out to be about $120 million, plus the revision of New Zealand’s labor laws to forbid collective bargaining among film-production contractors, plus the passage of three-strikes Internet-disconnection laws for online copyright infringement, plus enthusiastic and, it turns out, illegal cooperation in the shutdown of the pirate-friendly digital storage site Megaupload and the arrest of its owner, Kim Dotcom.
This is a familiar debate over the net value of such concessions that has played out in Hawaii like in many other destinations competing for the attentions of Hollywood.
But the column then ties the issue to ongoing negotiations for a Trans-Pacific Partnership that reconvened in New Zealand this week.
Unfortunately, the trade pact is widely regarded as yet another sellout to Hollywood. A draft chapter on intellectual property reads like a greatest hits of bad enforcement ideas, including three-strikes Internet disconnection for repeat infringers and content blocking by Internet providers.
Still, the trade framework could be used for good. It could support our increasingly rich, participatory, global audiovisual culture, rather than curtail it. It could also look to the Washington Declaration on Intellectual Property and the Public Interest, released by the American University Washington College of Law, for ways to balance public and private interests, rather than to Warner Bros.
Non-governmental experts who traveled to New Zealand to observe the latest round of negotiations found themselves locked out of the convention center in downtown Auckland, according to Jane Kelsey, a law professor at the University of Auckland.
From the Electronic Freedom Foundation:
Right now, EFF representatives in Auckland, New Zealand are being shut out of the 15th round of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP), a secretive, multi-national trade agreement that threatens to extend restrictive intellectual property (IP) laws across the globe. Hundreds of delegates and private representatives from the 11 participating nations are gathering at an Auckland casino to discuss this contentious trade agreement. EFF joins KEI, the Stop the Trap Coalition, Derechos Digitales and many other organizations representing public interest concerns to sound the alarm over the TPP’s intellectual property chapter.
Up until now, civil society representatives have been denied full access to these trade meetings. But this time, the barriers are far higher: civil society has been granted only one day—less than 15 minutes of time—to present to the delegates our concerns about how this secretive agreement could harm free expression on the Internet and have other dire consequences for consumers worldwide.
According to an article this week from Al Jazeera:
Led by the US, its supporters describe it as a free-trade pact that would expand US exports. But critics say trade makes up only a small part of what is being discussed.
They argue that the pact will grant far-reaching rights and privileges for corporations, and impose permanent constraints on government regulation.
So far 11 countries are taking part in the negotiations – the US, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile, New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore and Vietnam.
If approved, the TPPA would have implications for a whole range of areas, including access to affordable medicines, food safety and labour rights.
It could even revive elements of the hugely unpopular SOPA act, which placed restrictions on the internet, and was defeated in the US Congress.
Participating countries would also be forced to alter their domestic laws to conform with TPPA rules, something critics of the pact describe as a corporate coup d’etat.
Failure to comply would result in countries being brought before a special court, working outside domestic legal frameworks.
In addition, the three years of negotiations have been conducted in secret with just the delegates themselves and 600 corporate representatives privy to the discussions.