3 February 2010

ACTA – a much ado about nothing or a real menace to our digital freedom?


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2propuestas para el #TwitterShowcase 24 #ACTA #openACTAphoto © 2010 Neto González  | more info (via: Wylio)

In the last couple of weeks I have been confronted with numerous and contradictory information on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), its ongoing negotiation rounds, and – of course – its possible impacts on our digitised society.

Curiously enough, the information flow appears to be largely one-sided, as it originates from critics of the planned agreement at the utmost. Official European authorities’ statements are either rare or more or less expressionless. The Intellectual Property Watch has quoted the Commissioner Designate for International Trade, Karel de Gucht, saying “If there is confidentiality, I will respect it and I have to respect it.  It is impossible to change the terms during the negotiations”. Clearly, confidentiality obligations – when assumed – need be abode by. However, why should an issue of such importance be kept under secrecy?

ACTA is meant to be a multilateral trade agreement whose framers claim it to be a response “to the increase in global trade of counterfeit goods and pirated copyright protected works.”

The Scope of ACTA is Broad

including counterfeit physical goods, as well as “internet distribution and information technology”. In regards to the latter, ACTA is feared by many to bring the so called “three strikes and you are out” rule that would eventually lead to an internet denial for, say, users of infringing file sharing platforms. Such rules, for instance, are currently reported to be either implemented or seriously discussed in France, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, South Korea, and Taiwan.

ACTA is further frequently pulled together with the Directive 2004/48/EC (IPRED). Allegedly, the European Institutions await ACTA’s coming into force in order to align it with the IPRED II that was proposed in 2005 and aims to introduce criminal measures to ensure the enforcement of intellectual property rights.

Put it another way and given the validity of the above, ACTA will provide for

Some Atrocious Amendments

of the intellectual property legislations around the globe.

Indeed, I acknowledge that we live in an intellectual property driven society. Peterson J’s dictum “what is worth copying is worth protecting” in the University of London Press vs University Tutorial Press case seems to be as relevant today as it was in 1916.  And yes, it is true that the advent of Internet brought an inexpensive way to copy digital works and to distribute them without suffering any loss in quality. It is thus understandable that authors and right owners sought and are still going to seek sufficient protection for their works. Legislation on intellectual property, however, has always sought to

Provide for a Societal Balance

i.e. a balance between right owners’ limited monopoly over their works and society’s interest to access these works. The changes considered to be introduced by ACTA will, in my humble opinion, cause an imbalance in favour of the right owners.

As a consequence, ACTA is to be viewed – at least on the realm of Internet –  as a

Menace to Our Digital Freedom

rather than as much ado about nothing. If I were asked to advise the content industry, I would emphasize on business models and licensing schemes somewhat different than the current ones instead of employing a “seek and destroy” strategy to fight digital infringement.
There are many voices out there presenting good ideas, the content industry should just listen up.