Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Europe reacts to ACTA - The Other Problematic Anti-Online Piracy Policy

For those following the SOPA/PIPA issue in the U.S. (Earlier posts here and here), it's time to turn the focus onto its global equivalent, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA).  ACTA aims to be an intellectual property enforcement treaty aimed at stemming global commerce in counterfeit products, generic medicines, and Internet based copyright infringement.  Unlike almost every other international treaty or trade agreement, negotiations over the language of ACTA were kept secret.  The U.S. declared information about ACTA to be a State Secret when consumer interest groups filed Freedom of Information Act requests for documents related to the treaty and U.S. government negotiating positions (despite sharing Treaty language with a number of industry trade groups and large corporations)..  Legislatures in a number of countries were asked to ratify, or pass resolutions of support for,  ACTA without being provided access to actual Treaty language.  Nevertheless, various documents and drafts of sections were leaked during 2009 and 2010.  By spring 2010, enough of a draft was released that groups of academics and public interest groups were holding meetings to address a series of concerns.  In June, one such group concluded "that the terms of the publicly released draft of ACTA threaten numerous public interests, including every concern specifically disclaimed by negotiators," and a group of 75 law professors signed a letter asking President Obama to halt efforts to push ACTA and work to address concerns over language that would abridge long-established rights, and his announced plan to commit the U.S. to ACTA solely on the basis of his executive authority (Under the U.S. Constitution, international treaties like ACTA are supposed to be ratified by Congress before they become valid).

These concerns remained unaddressed, and representatives of 31 governments (all but one advanced industrial economies) last October.  Many EU states were pressured to sign, and the European Parliament was supposed to ratify the agreement to extend coverage to the full EU community, but a number of states expressed serious reservations, and a wave of public protests erupted.  The European Commission has attempted to defuse the concern by pulling ACTA ratification, pending a review by the European Court of Justice as to possible conflicts with guaranteed privacy (and other human) rights.  It seems unlikely that this will halt what seems to be a growing concern about privacy, Internet-freedom, and protecting user's rights. 

In a post on the Atlantic blog, Tyson Barker suggest that Anti-ACTA protests tap into major concerns -
"In Germany and the former communist states of Central Europe, where history is rife with examples of states using vaguely worded laws as tools for invasive domestic surveillance, privacy and Internet openness as core rights have worked their way into political discourse and even into party structure. The Pirate Party took more than seven percent in the European elections in Sweden in 2009. Germany's Pirate Party took 8.9 percent of the vote in the Berlin state elections in 2011 and now polls seven percent nationally. Spain and the Czech Republic's Pirate Parties have won municipal representation on city councils.... The confluence of issues around privacy, data protection, net neutrality and open sourcing could become a permanent fixture in the European political landscape, just as ecological issues have in the past thirty years."
 Sources -  Europe in Turmoil Over Internet Anti-Piracy Legislationthe Atlantic
If You Thought SOPA Was Bad, Just Wait Until You Meet

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