Exporting Controversy? Reactions to the Copyright Provisions of the US-Australia Free Trade Agreement: Lessons for US Trade Policy

70 Pages Posted: 30 Aug 2007

See all articles by Kimberlee G. Weatherall

Kimberlee G. Weatherall

The University of Sydney - Faculty of Law

Robert Burrell

University of Melbourne - Law School

Date Written: August 29, 2007


The United States has entered into a series of bilateral and plurilateral trade agreements over recent years. One of the openly acknowledged goals in pursuing such agreements has been to build support for the United States' foreign policy and security objectives. The pursuit of these geopolitical goals has not, however, been seen as running counter to the United States' economic well-being. On the contrary, recent agreements have been presented and promoted as if they contributed simultaneously to both the political and economic interests of the US. As part of its economic objectives, the US has insisted that partner countries agree to implement very detailed copyright obligations that are closely modelled on US law.

The wisdom of current policy has not passed entirely unchallenged. Some commentators have argued that free trade agreements have hidden political costs insofar as they breed resentment in countries not invited to sign such agreements. Others have demanded that future agreements incorporate higher labour and environmental standards. Left unchallenged, however, is the assumption that current policy promotes good relations with partner countries. It is this assumption that we seek to question, by taking as a case study the Australian reaction to the copyright provisions of the US-Australia free trade agreement. These provisions gave rise to extreme and sustained controversy, so much so that it can fairly be said that the copyright provisions - more than any other single part of the agreement - helped to generate a climate of suspicion and concern about the United States' intentions. As a consequence, far from promoting the United States' political interests, the US-Australia free trade agreement has fed anti-American sentiment in a traditionally friendly country.

Equally importantly, we show that US copyright owners gained little from the agreement: something that is likely to surprise supporters and critics of US copyright policy alike. Consequently our analysis reveals, first, that the conclusion of a free trade agreement may produce net political costs for the US even within partner countries; and second, that these costs are not offset by economic benefits, at least in the copyright sphere. Whilst this does not demonstrate conclusively that the bilateral route needs to be abandoned, it does lend support to the argument that there needs to be a fundamental reassessment of current US trade strategy.

Keywords: US trade policy, US copyright policy, international intellectual property, copyright law, intellectual property law, international trade, bilateral trade agreements, free trade agreements

JEL Classification: O34

Suggested Citation

Weatherall, Kimberlee Gai and Burrell, Robert, Exporting Controversy? Reactions to the Copyright Provisions of the US-Australia Free Trade Agreement: Lessons for US Trade Policy (August 29, 2007). University of Queensland TC Beirne School of Law Research Paper No. 07-13, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1010833 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1010833

Kimberlee Gai Weatherall (Contact Author)

The University of Sydney - Faculty of Law ( email )

New Law Building, F10
The University of Sydney
Sydney, NSW 2006

Robert Burrell

University of Melbourne - Law School ( email )

University Square
185 Pelham Street, Carlton
Victoria, Victoria 3010

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