Over 100 International Public Interest Organizations Demand ACTA Be Made Public

Over 100 public interest organizations have demanded that ACTA, the notoriously secret treaty being negotiated by numerous nations around the world, to finally be made public.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

The EFF points to a very interesting news release which announces that several organizations from around the world are demanding that the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement be made public. The release was made by big names. Australia’s Kimberlee Weatherall, USA’s Robert Weissman, and Canada’s Michael Geist were among the names included in the initial press release. More from the release:

More than 100 public interest organizations from around the world today called on officials from the countries negotiating Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) — the United States, the European Union, Switzerland, Japan, South Korea, Canada, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand — to publish immediately the draft text of the agreement.

Secrecy around the treaty negotiation has fueled concerns that its terms will undermine vital consumer interests.

Organizations signing the letter include: Consumers Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Essential Action, IP Justice, Knowledge Ecology International, Public Knowledge, Global Trade Watch, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, IP Left (Korea), Australian Digital Alliance, The Canadian Library Association, Consumers Union of Japan, National Consumer Council (UK) and Doctors without Borders’ Campaign for Essential Medicines.

One of the major flash points in ACTA, based on leaked information, was that it would put pressure on governments from around the world to seize any electronic storage device (iPod’s, Laptops, USB sticks, DVDs, CDs, iPhone’s, etc.) at the borders without suspicion in an effort to block allegedly copyright infringing material from crossing the borders into other countries.

The documents were leaked early on this year. When we reported on the initial leaked document, there was also the issue of restricting privacy tools as well as extremely strict copyright laws being imposed onto the internet (dubbed “Pirate Bay Killer” treaty at the time)

Since then, another leak surfaced a month and a half ago. The leak, as we reported, clarified many of the controversial provisions being negotiated and noted how tax-payers would end up being the ones to foot any bills as the result of any ramped up security measures. Other controversial aspects are: that rights holders would be entitled to recoup any losses related to court fees and expenses related to copyright infringement cases, that damages and fines related to copyright infringement be increased, and that rights holders are entitled to any and all private information related to the infringer including who they come in contact with.

The letter (RTF) included in the press release details other controversial aspects of ACTA:

– Require Internet Service Providers to monitor all consumers’ Internet communications, terminate their customers’ Internet connections based on rights holders’ repeat allegation of copyright infringement, and divulge the identity of alleged copyright infringers possibly without judicial process, threatening Internet users’ due process and privacy rights; and potentially make ISPs liable for their end users’ alleged infringing activity
– Interfere with fair use of copyrighted materials
– Criminalize peer-to-peer file sharing
– Improperly criminalize acts not done for commercial purpose and with no public health consequences
– Improperly divert public resources into enforcement of private rights

In spite the many issues being raised by the mere glimpse into the ACTA negotiations, some governments, like Canada, have practically pretended that ACTA doesn’t even exist while other countries like Australia make brief mentions of it. We noted one such negotiations meeting two months ago. Further from the letter:

Because the text of the treaty and relevant discussion documents remain secret, the public has no way of assessing whether and to what extent these and related concerns are merited.

Equally, because the treaty text and relevant discussion documents remain secret, treaty negotiators are denied the insights and perspectives that public interest organizations and individuals could offer. Public review of the texts and a meaningful ability to comment would, among other benefits, help prevent unanticipated pernicious problems arising from the treaty. Such unforeseen outcomes are not unlikely, given the complexity of the issues involved.

The lack of transparency in negotiations of an agreement that will affect the fundamental rights of citizens of the world is fundamentally undemocratic. It is made worse by the public perception that lobbyists from the music, film, software, video games, luxury goods and pharmaceutical industries have had ready access to the ACTA text and pre-text discussion documents through long-standing communication channels.

The G8’s recent Declaration on the World Economy implored negotiators to conclude ACTA negotiations this year. The speed of the negotiations makes it imperative that relevant text and documents be made available to the citizens of the world immediately.

There has been reactions from around the world – almost all of which have been unanimously negative for different aspects of it. One aspect that’s new for the US is the idea that public funds would be, by law, funneled to RIAA lawsuits. In Canada, the idea that one would have their iPod confiscated without suspicion raised a number of alarm bells (something that the minister responsible for the Canadian DMCA attempted to hide by saying that it wasn’t in Bill C-61 and therefore, not worth the worry)

Still, it’s no secret that many in the copyright industry are hoping to get this law in place in many nations from around the world. If it does, there may even be celebrations with champagne over it. Why not? That’s the same reception the DMCA got by rights holders in 2002.

Unfortunately, the likelihood of the treaty being released to the public for consultation is, at this point, slim to none. Not a surprise since it seems that only those who are going to benefit from this are the ones who can actually legally read it at this point.

Further Reading:

Press release including signatures

Wikipedia entry on ACTA

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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