All about ACTA

I’ve blogged in the past on ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. Readers will gear a lot more of this in the next month, because the next meeting of the ACTA negotiators is in Wellington in April.

There are two major issues around ACTA. The first is that the negotiations are secret, and this has even upset the EU Parliament:

Wary of the lack of openness surrounding the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), virtually representatives of the EU parliament have banded together, voting 663 to 13 in favour of passing a resolution that would require the EU Commission (who are the EU’s representative in ACTA negotiations), to share all information about ACTA talks, and to refuse to support any Internet disconnection penalty for online copyright infringement.

The resolution is very specific and blunt about the EU Parliament’s displeasure with the lack of transparency around EU ACTA negotiations, citing concerns over the “lack of a transparent process in the conduct of the ACTA negotiations”.

The second is the concern that ACTA may force countries that ratify it, to legislate for Internet disconnection for people accussed or found to have infringed copyright.

Now, all trade agreements are negotiated privately, but whether an agreement on copyright law should be seen as a trade agreement is a big issue – most IP agreements are not. Many countries would like to be more open about ACTA, but the rules of trade negotiations are that you need unanimous permission to agree to anything – including releasing information. So just one country, such as the US, can block the release of the draft text.

I’ve attended two meetings (in my role with InternetNZ) with officials from MFAT and MED, and have to say I am impressed with their willingness to engage, within the limits of what they can say. They have consistently said their position has been that ACTA should not require NZ to do anything beyond its current law (including the replacement S92A). However they can not tell us what has been proposed by other countries, and the concern is what pressure there may be to get an agreement in the final stages.

What the Government has done is asked for public submissions on “enforcement of intellectual property rights in the digital environment”. If you have concerns about ACTA, you should take a few minutes to make a submission and state what is and is not acceptable to you. Topics include:

  • Liability of ISPs for third party infringement
  • Safe Harbour provisions for ISPs and associated conditions
  • Identifying Infringing Users
  • TPMs (Technological Protection Measures)

Now despite the ACTA negotiations being secret, a draft text has been leaked. And, assuming it is accurate, it shows the New Zealand negotiators in a pretty favourable light – opposing some of the more undesirable aspects.

Nathan Torkington covers this in a blog post. His summary:

On the balance this bit isn’t too bad–New Zealand is a good voice for sanity in the negotiations.

I was pleased to see from the leaked draft, that the official position of the NZ negotiators, was very much in line with the informal indications they had given. It is ironic that we can only verify this, because someone leaked a draft.

Now as I said the next round of ACTA, and the round most likely to be discussing the Internet section, is in Wellington from 12 to 16 April. I am hoping the organisers will allow an opportunity for some sort of public forum or dialogue with negotiators, and this request has been made.

InternetNZ has organised a PublicACTA conference on Saturday 10 April, which will allow interested people to debate the issues, form positions, and report them to the main ACTA negotiations the following week.

And in a further announcement, the keynote speaker will be Professor Michael Geist, the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa in Ontario. Michael is a real expert in this area, and a great advocate for balance in copyright laws.

I would recommend people attend, just for the chance to hear Michael. And if you wish to stay up to date with what is happening, I recommend this ACTA coalition site.