ACTA (“Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement”) is a proposed new international law establishing international enforcement standards against counterfeit goods and pirated intellectual property items. ACTA was negotiated as a “trade agreement” which means that it was negotiated in private without open involvement of all the stakeholders. There has been no formal opportunity for input from people other than those who were lucky enough to be invited into the private discussions.
This is a bad way to build Internet policy. The Internet is a fundamental platform for communication and interaction. There are many stakeholders. The voices of human empowerment, human rights, and competing economic interests must be heard. These voices must have a place at the table when policy is debated. ACTA was not created through such a process.
Here are some examples of of how closed the ACTA negotiation process has been:
- Try to find the notice EU Notice regarding ACTA being “ready” for signing: Hint: it’s 2 paragraphs on page 43 of a document titled Agriculture and Fisheries;
- General Secretariat of the EU denies access to ACTA documents;
- Access to ACTA documents denied again, this time to Dutch foundation Vrijschrift;
- In the US, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge filed suit demanding that background documents on ACTA be disclosed, but dropped the suit in 2009 when it became clear there was little chance of success.
ACTA is extremely controversial. That controversy has become focused in the last couple of weeks as net-savvy citizens across Europe have made their deep concerns known.
- 15 thousand People on the streets in Poland on Jan 25;
- Public opinion forces suspension of ratification process in Poland, Czech Republic, and Latvia;
- Germany postpones signing;
- Large numbers of additional protests planned for February 11.
One aspect of the controversy about ACTA is the closed process where only a tiny subset of people affected by the law were allowed to participate. Another great controversy is about the actual content of ACTA. We know that the goal of stopping unauthorized access to digital content can lead to very dangerous results. The proposed SOPA and PIPA legislation in the U.S made this abundantly clear. This is an area where even good intentions can lead to imbalanced and dangerous results.
European citizens are now evaluating how ACTA language affects life in their jurisdictions. Deep concerns are developing. These are exacerbated by the fact that the discussions over the content of ACTA are procedurally closed, and the involvement permitted to citizens is a “yes” or “no” response from their representatives. The European Parliament is scheduled to vote on whether or not to ratify ACTA sometime later this year, perhaps as early as June.
Building a healthy Internet takes all of us. It cannot be left to private, invitation-only process that excludes most of us. Some links for more information are below, and there is a great deal more information available. Please consider learning more and making your voice heard.