In the midst of website blackouts, debates over intellectual property and the use of copyrighted material online stands the International Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, also known as ACTA. This agreement has a greater reach than that of PIPA and SOPA, targeting not only copyright infringement on the Internet, but also the sales of counterfeit goods and generic medications.
Primarily, ACTA seeks to establish international standards for enforcement of intellectual property rights, and requires the creation of an independent governing body, the ACTA Committee, outside the World Trade Organization (WTO), the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the United Nations. The agreement was signed on Oct. 1 by the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore and South Korea. Last month 22 of the European Union’s member states—including the UK, Spain, Italy, Ireland, Greece and France—signed the agreement without any legislation or public democratic processes.
Stravros Lambrinidis, a Greek member of the European Parliament, said that this “is legislation laundering on an international level of what would be very difficult to get through most parliaments.” Being that this is an agreement between nations, much like a peace treaty, countries are able to bypass these processes and sign the ACTA with little or no public disclosure. In fact, until last year, much of the information regarding ACTA came primarily from online information leaks.
According to one of these leaks, the United States and Japan first introduced the idea of a plurilateral treaty that would aid in the fight against piracy and counterfeiting. This is believed to be the earliest draft of ACTA. It was meant to bring together developed as well as developing countries that wish to negotiate an agreement that would enhance “international cooperation and contains effective international standards for enforcing intellectual property rights.” The leak goes on to say that preliminary talks about ACTA took place in secret
throughout 2006 and 2007 among many of the countries that signed last fall.
Greg Frazier, Executive Vice President and Chief Policy Officer of the Motion Picture Association of America, one of the strongest proponents of ACTA, released a public statement about his views of the agreement. In the statement, Frazier said, “ACTA is an important step forward in strengthening international cooperation and enforcement for intellectual property rights.” He goes on to say that it is an “important signal that the world’s largest economies recognize the critical value of intellectual property rights to their global competitiveness and are committed to moving ahead together to protect the jobs of the millions of men and women working in film and other creative industries.”
Critics of ACTA believe that Frazier and organizations like the MPAA overlook some of the dangerous side effects. Rohit Malpani, a Senior Campaigns Advisor at Oxfam America, an international development and humanitarian agency, was quoted in a press release criticizing the possible impact of the ACTA: “We can only assume that the final text could do great harm in developing countries and undermine the balance between the protection of intellectual property and the need to provide affordable medicines for poor people.”
Here at UWSP, Dr. Mark Tolstedt, a professor of media law in the Communication Department, said he had mixed feelings about the fight against online copyright infringement. “For example, if I were a copyright holder,” he explained, “I would be concerned about others using my work in a way that would deprive me of monetary gain.” That he could understand. “On the other hand, most of what is used on the Internet is not edited and resold, but is instead simply reposted.” Dr. Tolstedt said that this could be good for circulation of the copyright holder’s product. His advice on the matter: cite anything posted online as if it were in a paper written for class.
Although many countries have signed the ACTA, it is not yet in effect. The European Parliament will be seeking to either ratify or reject the agreement in the coming months, with a vote likely to be scheduled in June. A few anti-ACTA websites have urged their visitors to call members of the International Trade Committee and recommend that Parliament reject, and therefore disarm ACTA in Europe.