Monday, December 7, 2009

Rein In ACTA: Tell Congress to Open the Secret IP Pact

Despite the new administration's policy of openness, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) still remains shrouded in secrecy. But language leaked from the negotiations reveal that it threatens to shift the balance of copyright law across the world, with little or no oversight from lawmakers.

ACTA is currently being negotiated between the US, Europe and other states, including Japan, Australia, and Canada. It reaches a fifth round of deliberations in Morocco next month. Some expect the document to be ready for signing by then. Even though the process has taken over a year to reach this stage, the entire negotiation has been kept secret from the public.

But some information has unofficially emerged from the closed meetings. Draft language indicates provisions that will include mandated disclosure of personal information in alleged IP disputes, a new global requirement that "commercial scale" piracy will also capture non-commercial copies, and new powers to place injunctions on IP violations with lowered standards of proof and limited due process. Much of the language is reminiscent of entertainment industry demands -- and nowhere in the draft is there mention of the rights of individual consumers and the IP balance driving innovation in the knowledge economy.

Most disturbing of all, an entire section of the treaty is devoted to "rights management technology/the Internet," suggesting that both negotiators and lobbyists are choosing to ignore the failure of DRM in the market and the complex dangers of regulating the Internet across jurisdictions to match the demands of rightsholders.

All of these radical changes are taking place behind closed doors. Of over 1300 pages of ACTA background documents requested by EFF in a Freedom of Information Act request last year, only 159 were released to the public by the United States Trade Representative (USTR). EFF and Public Knowledge are currently involved in a pending Federal lawsuit to obtain more information.

Congress can and should do more. At a time when the competitiveness of the US economy is at stake, open debate about real changes to global technology policy is too important to ignore. Instead of the public relying on lawsuits and leaked documents, Congress can tell the USTR to open up the ACTA process to true oversight and deliberation, and demand it keep to its original agenda of fighting counterfeit fake products and commercial piracy on behalf of consumers.

ACTA has been compromised by secrecy and privileged access for industry lobbyists. Tell Congress to open it up, or demand an alternative.


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