Technology companies and public interest groups are warning that an international trade agreement being drafted could expose Internet access providers, Web search engines and other online businesses to damaging legal risks. The far-reaching agreement aims to crack down on counterfeiting, copyright violations and other intellectual property theft, and would cover everything from fake pharmaceuticals to online piracy of music and movies. But critics fear it could cripple technology companies by holding them responsible for copyright infringement by their users. The nations taking part include the U.S., European Union member states, Japan, Korea, Canada, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland and Australia. The countries that eventually sign on to the final treaty will be expected to bring their own laws and legal practices into compliance.
Many technology companies are particularly concerned that the treaty could open the door to broad “secondary liability” for Internet service providers, social networking sites, video-sharing sites and other online services for alleged copyright infringement by their users. That could hurt telecom giants such as AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. and popular online platforms such as FaceBook and Google Inc.’s YouTube.