In the wake of the internet strike against SOPA and PIPA politicians were tumbling all over each other to speak out against the proposed anti-piracy bills. On the morning of January 18th 80 Members of Congress supported the bills and 31 opposed. January 19th the count dramatically shifted to 65 supporters and 101 opponents. On January 20th both bills were postponed indefinitely.
The internet community claimed victory but immediately cautioned to stay vigilant. The bills are shelved, not dead and can rear up their ugly heads at any time. And even though it isn’t likely these particular bills will be taken of the shelf because of their infamy, similar legislation under a different name can be introduced in Congress.
But presently a more urgent threat to a free and open internet is embodied by the Anti-Counterfeit Trade Agreement.
ACTA is an international treaty intended to harmonize copyright protection standards of both Intellectual Property (IP) and goods ranging from fashion items to pharmaceuticals. The anti-piracy measurements in ACTA can have a great impact on the development of the internet. Opponents state that -very much like SOPA and PIPA- ACTA will limit free speech and threaten online privacy.
Art. 23.4 of the treaty criminalizes aiding and abetting infringement. Effectively make ISP’s and tech companies responsible for policing the net as they can be held liable for content on their sites and networks. Art. 27.4 allows copyrights holders to obtain private data about suspected (not proven) infringers. For a more detailed account read Mike Masnick’s ‘What Is ACTA And Why Is Its A Problem?‘ or the complete ACTA text.
But ACTA’s consequences stretch far beyond the internet.
In developing countries many people can’t afford trademarked pharmaceuticals. Each year, over 9.5 million people die due to infectious diseases for which there exists medication. These medicines are the IP of the pharmaceutical companies that patented them. Because these companies aim for markets in developed countries, people in developing countries can’t afford them. The current IP trade agreement TRIPS has some provisions which allow developing countries to import affordable generic drugs for public health reasons. ACTA with stronger enforcement measures on IP, will further impede the access to medicines in developing countries.
Many of the participating countries have already signed the treaty including the US, Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, and South Korea. The EU and 22 of its 27 Member States, have signed the treaty today during a ceremony in Japan.
Opponents object to the undemocratic way the treaty has come into being. Japan and the US first started negotiating the treaty in 2006 soon joined by the EU, Switzerland and Canada but contents of the text weren’t available to the public until a draft was leaked by Wikileaks in 2009.
The stakeholders who were invited to sit in on the drafting of the bill consisted solely of copyright holders like the Pharmaceutical the Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and Recording Industry Association of America(RIAA) while no civil liberty groups or representatives of developing countries were present.
Last December the opposition in the Dutch parliament (unsuccesfully) objected against giving the deputy prime minister a mandate to negotiate the treaty because some documents were still officially secret.
In the US the treaty was signed by president Obama without congressional approval under the pretense that ACTA isn’t a treaty -which requires a two-third Senate approval- but rather an executive agreement -which can be signed by the president alone. Law professors claim the president is exceeding his constitutional powers with this move.
The treaty is not a fact yet. The European Parliament and many Parliaments of its Member States still have to approve ratify the agreement.
Which is why the energy that fueled the Stop-SOPA protests is rapidly shifting toward ACTA. Actions are taking place all over Europe. Especially in Poland opposition is fierce. Thousands of people took to the streets and politicians wore Guy Fawkes masks in parliament (see photo). Online vigilante Anonymous ‘has launched unprecedented string of attacks on government and business sites around the world’, reports Quinn Norton on Wired.