I wish I could tell you exactly what ACTA (the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) does. I can’t. Now, that isn’t because I haven’t researched the issue. It is instead because this is an international treaty that was negotiated in private. I can, and do below the fold, give you an opportunity to speak against it, no matter what country you’re in.
From the Electronic Freedom Foundation:
ACTA has several features that raise significant potential concerns for consumers’ privacy and civil liberties for innovation and the free flow of information on the Internet legitimate commerce and for developing countries’ ability to choose policy options that best suit their domestic priorities and level of economic development.
ACTA is being negotiated by a select group of industrialized countries outside of existing international multilateral venues for creating new IP norms such as the World Intellectual Property Organization and (since TRIPs) the World Trade Organization. Both civil society and developing countries are intentionally being excluded from these negotiations. While the existing international fora provide (at least to some extent) room for a range of views to be heard and addressed no such checks and balances will influence the outcome of the ACTA negotiations.
The Fact Sheet published by the USTR together with the USTR’s 2008 “Special 301″ report make it clear that the goal is to create a new standard of intellectual property enforcement above the current internationally-agreed standards in the TRIPs Agreement and increased international cooperation including sharing of information between signatory countries’ law enforcement agencies. The last 10 bilateral free trade agreements entered into by the United States have required trading partners to adopt intellectual property enforcement obligations that are above those in TRIPs. Even though developing countries are not party to the ACTA negotiations it is likely that accession to and implementation of ACTA by developing countries will be a condition imposed in future free trade agreements and the subject of evaluation in content industry submissions to the annual Section 301 process and USTR report.
While little information has been made available by the governments negotiating ACTA a document recently leaked to the public entitled “Discussion Paper on a Possible Anti-counterfeiting Trade Agreement” from an unknown source gives an indication of what content industry rightsholder groups appear to be asking for – including new legal regimes to “encourage ISPs to cooperate with right holders in the removal of infringing material” criminal measures and increased border search powers. The Discussion Paper leaves open how Internet Service Providers should be encouraged to identify and remove allegedly infringing material from the Internet. However the same industry rightsholder groups that support the creation of ACTA have also called for mandatory network-level filtering by Internet Service Providers and for Internet Service Providers to terminate citizens’ Internet connection on repeat allegation of copyright infringement (the “Three Strikes” /Graduated Response) so there is reason to believe that ACTA will seek to increase intermediary liability and require these things of Internet Service Providers. While mandating copyright filtering by ISPs will not be technologically effective because it can be defeated by use of encryption efforts to introduce network level filtering will likely involve deep packet inspection of citizens’ Internet communications. This raises considerable concerns for citizens’ civil liberties and privacy rights and the future of Internet innovation.
Yes, the anti-counterfeiting agreement has substantial potential implications for the freedom of information on the internet. Yes, it’s supported by the same huge companies that don’t want you to exercise even fair use of their products. Yes, the people who created it don’t want others to know what’s in it before it is approved.
I think you know what that means.
If you are an intellectual property creator yourself, tell them so. Remind them this is a fight between corporations and individuals over civil rights, not between artists and faceless pirates over intellectual property. There are ways to protect copyright that don’t involve secrets and cutting people out of the internet. There are ways to protect copyright that don’t in practice grant all rights to the companies with the teams of lawyers (and lobbyists). Tell the people who are supposed to represent you that if they believe this is a real issue, above and beyond the laws we already have, they need to do the work to create good laws on the topic.