Counterfeiting Treaty, Now Public, Confirms Critics' Fears

ACTA, the anticounterfeiting trade agreement that has ignited debate over its provisions for clamping down on copyright abuse on the Internet, was made public Wednesday, but the fears it sparked while it was being negotiated secretly will not go away any time soon, according to people in the IT industry, telecom industry and civil liberties groups.

Leaks of the negotiating text that appeared in recent months drew attention to plans to make Internet service providers liable for the content being disseminated on their networks. They also revealed that the ACTA would encourage countries that sign it to impose a graduated response to illegal file-sharing of content such as music and movies.

"Concerns regarding liability provisions remain," said the European Telecommunications Network Operators' Association (ETNO) in a statement Wednesday.

"This agreement exports the strong penalties found in U.S. copyright law without also exporting those essential protections like fair use that provide much-needed balance," said Ed Black, president and CEO of the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), a trade group including big tech companies such as Google.

"The text has been changed and it's not obvious because there are so many different options covered in this public version, but it does still seem to have the references to third-party liability that were there in the leaked versions," said Joe McNamee, an E.U. affairs expert with the civil liberties group European Digital Rights.

He said that the text also leaves open the possibility for countries to impose a graduated response to copyright abuse. Also known as the "three strike" approach, this would mean that ISPs would have to warn illegal file-sharers to stop copying music or movies. If the file sharers persist, the ISPs would sever their Internet connection.

Black described the ACTA text as "copyright law on steroids" and warned that it would punish U.S. technology companies seeking to do business outside the U.S.

"ACTA is not a trade agreement. It is an antitrade agreement that closes foreign markets for U.S. tech companies. For 37 years CCIA has been pro trade, and opposing ACTA is pro trade," he said in a statement.

"I am very glad that the E.U. convinced its partners to release the negotiation text," said EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht. "The text makes clear what ACTA is really about: It will provide our industry and creators with better protection in overseas markets, which is essential for business to thrive. It will not have a negative impact on European citizens," he said.  

The countries negotiating the ACTA include the U.S., the E.U., Canada, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and Switzerland.

The aim is to finalize the treaty this year. The next meeting takes place in Switzerland in June.

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