Last week, the content industry launched a new coalition—ACTION for Trade—dedicated to keeping Internet intermediary safe harbors out of the renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement (“NAFTA”). Matt Schruers noted in a recent DisCo post that such an effort would break with existing law and Congressional direction in trade promotion legislation. It also would break a nearly 20-year-old bargain brokered by Senator Orrin Hatch, now the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. This bargain, first embodied in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”), has been replicated in U.S. free trade agreements with sixteen countries.
Congress enacted the safe harbor system in 1998 as one title of the much broader DMCA. This broader statute, in a separate title, established prohibitions on the circumvention of technological protection measures. These two titles were adopted together to create a balanced approach to copyright enforcement in the Internet environment. They represented a carefully negotiated compromise between diverse stakeholders.