The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is on a fast-track process as rich nations hope to wrap it up by the end of the year. Unfortunately for everyone who cares about the outcome, it's midway through September, and no draft text has yet emerged. The secrecy and the delay have inspired many conspiracy theories, none helped by leaked sets of corporate "wish lists" and public comments making outrageous demands. A worldwide group of public interest organizations has now banded together to call on ACTA negotiators to open the process up to scrutiny and public comment.
The letter, signed by more than 100 groups, has tough words for ACTA negotiators. "The lack of transparency in negotiations of an agreement that will affect the fundamental rights of citizens of the world is fundamentally undemocratic," it says. "It is made worse by the public perception that lobbyists from the music, film, software, video games, luxury goods and pharmaceutical industries have had ready access to the ACTA text and pre-text discussion documents through long-standing communication channels."
Seven specific concerns are cited, all based on leaked documents or public comments from various trade groups, many of which seem bent on turning an anti-counterfeiting agreement into something more wide-ranging. It's unclear what the negotiators themselves think of most such requests, but that's part of the problem. According to the letter, ACTA might:
Require Internet Service Providers to monitor all consumers' Internet communications, terminate their customers' Internet connections based on rights-holders' repeated allegation of copyright infringement, and divulge the identity of alleged copyright infringers possibly without judicial processInterfere with fair use of copyrighted materialsCriminalize peer-to-peer file sharingInterfere with legitimate parallel trade in goods, including the resale of brand-name pharmaceutical productsImpose liability on manufacturers of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), if those APIs are used to make counterfeitsImproperly criminalize acts not done for commercial purpose and with no public health consequencesImproperly divert public resources into enforcement of private rights
Signatories of the letter include everyone from the EFF to the Australian National University to the Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic to Korea's Christian Media Network to the Dutch Consumentenbond to Thailand's Drug Study Group (DSG) to the Ecologist Collective from Guadalajara, México to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. It's a dizzying list with worldwide backing, but the more important question is whether it will have any effect.
To date, ACTA negotiators have proved themselves supremely resistant to involving stakeholders in the process, and many of these groups are from countries not even involved in the negotiations. Different national negotiators have followed different strategies, though, and credit has to be given to the office of the US Trade Representative, which requested (and then published) a lengthy series of public commentary on the treaty.
Without much to go on apart from some leaked documents, though, the comments became a set of "we like/we hate" lists. Because of the secrecy, it remains unclear which of the suggestions USTR is pushing in its negotiating sessions. However, up in Canada, news over the summer suggested that the recording business, movie studios, and video game makers were welcome to advise ACTA negotiators in private. Meanwhile, privacy groups, NGOs, and other stakeholders are forced to wait in the hallway.Posted on