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Petition: ACTA 'threatens' Public Interests

About 650 people, including 11 members of the European Union Parliament and about 90 intellectual property (IP) professors, have signed a document saying an international IP enforcement agreement being negotiated by the U.S. and 36 other countries "threatens numerous public interests."

The document, released by American University's Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property Wednesday, raises a wide range of concerns about the proposed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which was negotiated in secret for more than two years before the countries involved released a copy of the text in April.

"ACTA is the predictably deficient product of a deeply flawed process, says the American University document. "What started as a relatively simple proposal to coordinate customs enforcement has transformed into a sweeping and complex new international intellectual property and internet regulation with grave consequences for the global economy and governments' ability to promote and protect the public interest."

ACTA, which would create an international agreement for enforcing IP laws, will infringe individual liberties, and it will result in increased border searches for counterfeit and pirated materials, the document says.

The document calls for the countries negotiating ACTA to open up discussions with interested parties outside of government. "Any agreement of this scope and consequence must be based on a broad and meaningful consultative process, in public, on the record and with open on-going access to proposed negotiating text and must reflect a full range of public interest concerns," the document says. "This text fails to meet these standards."

The negotiations need to be more transparent, added Sean Flynn, associate director of the American University IP program. Even though the ACTA text was released in late April, the U.S. government still has not had an open hearing about the trade pact, he said.

"The big fix that needs to happen is actually the process," he said. "This is the type of agreement -- it's a sweeping intellectual property and Internet agreement -- that needs to be negotiated in public, not in private. They should be constantly releasing text and inviting public input on it."

U.S. officials have defended ACTA, saying it will help stop copyright theft from U.S. companies and creators.

"Quite candidly, we're in the midst of a worldwide epidemic of copyright piracy," Steven Tepp, senior counsel for policy and international affairs at the U.S. Copyright Office, said during a forum about ACTA in May. "A global problem needs a global solution."

ACTA would require that executives of companies that aid copyright infringement would face fines or prison terms. Each nation signing on to ACTA would be required to "adopt and maintain appropriate measures" for inspecting shipments that are suspected to contain counterfeit or pirated goods.

Representatives of the White House Office of U.S. Trade Representative, which is negotiating ACTA, didn't immediately respond to a request for comments on the American University document.

Organizers gathered 650 signatures in about 24 hours, Flynn said. The document grew out of a meeting that the program hosted about ACTA last week, in which IP professors and other interested people examined ACTA's text and raised concerns, he said.

Organizers of the effort plan to present the document to ACTA negotiators meeting in Switzerland next week, he said.

Among the groups endorsing the American University document are the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Freedom Against Censorship Thailand, the International Association of IT Lawyers, the Internet Industry Association of Australia, The African Commons Project, Pirate Parties International, Public Citizen, Public Knowledge, and Korean Pharmacists for a Democratic Society.

The members of the E.U. Parliament signing the document were all members of the Green Party.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantusG. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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