Australian Committee Recommends Against Ratifying ACTA

ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) has certainly been at the receiving end of numerous heavy blows. The heaviest are coming from Europe where widespread opposition and all five committees looking at ACTA have recommended against ratification. Now, Australia seems to be following suit with the Australian Joint Standing Committee on Treaties also recommending against ratification.

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

You could be forgiven for missing the news that ACTA is now also receiving regulatory blows in Australia. With all the activity surrounding the Digital Economy Act’s three strikes law resurfacing in the news, the seemingly inevitable strike rule coming up in the US and the huge blow dealt to the FBI and New Zealand prosecutors in the MegaUpload case, trying to keep track of all that is happening these days is extremely challenging.

Last week, the fifth and final committee in Europe looking at ACTA recommended against ratifying ACTA. The development was met with thunderous applause from Europeans of many walks of life. For many, it legitimized the very political institutions they trusted in because if it weren’t for the widespread opposition, many argue ACTA would have sailed through without a second thought. No wonder why some called that moment a “victory for European democracy”.

Now, just the other day, Australia has joined the growing chorus in recommending against ratifying the treaty. The Register is pointing to a media release by the Australian Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, talking specifically about ACTA. The statement says that while ACTA was a treaty aimed at strengthening intellectual property laws, committee chair MP Kelvin Thomson said that there were numerous flaws in the agreement. More from the press release:

“The Committee is concerned about the lack of clarity in the text, the exclusion of provisions protecting the rights of individuals, and ACTA’s potential to shift the balance in the interpretation of copyright law, intellectual property law and patent law,” Mr Thomson said. “The international reaction to ACTA, which, without exception, comes from countries which the Committee considers would have the same interests as Australia, must also be taken into consideration.”

The Committee has made nine recommendations, including that the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement not be ratified by Australia until the:

– Treaties Committee has received and considered an independent and transparent assessment of ACTA’s economic and social benefits and costs;

– Australian Law Reform Commission has reported on its Inquiry into Copyright and the Digital Economy; and the

– Australian Government has issued notices of clarification in relation to the terms of the Agreement.

The press release went on to acknowledge the European International Trade committee (INTA) rejecting ACTA. The committee said that Australia should regard the status of ACTA in other places around the world like the European Union. This certainly echos the sentiment of a lot of observers that while INTA’s rejection a big event in Europe, it also had wide ranging implications beyond their borders. Australia is certainly proving this to be a very true sentiment. You could almost see the prospects of ACTA in numerous countries falling like dominoes with the first domino being first three European committees rejecting ACTA (of course, followed up by the fourth committees rejection a short time later)

While people all over the world are thrilled that momentum has fully shifted into their favor, the whole thing must be seen as a giant catastrophe for the handful of multinational corporations that spent years getting secret meetings with government officials to get this agreement rolling. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a CEO or two somewhere watching all this unfold and already have put their head on their desks at least once in sorrow over years of planning unraveling before their very eyes. At this point in time, it almost seems like nothing can stop this tail spin ACTA has found itself in. What’s more is the potential implications this could have on other agreements. Now, many countries are very wary of any agreements negotiated in secret – especially if it infringes on basic fundamental rights for people online. The TPP certainly has no shortage of proposed provisions that could be seen as violations of fundamental rights and it follows on an assumed legacy ACT was suppose to have left behind (a legacy such as negotiations being done in secret for instance). Of course, only time will tell if any ACTA rejection could put something like the TPP in jeopardy. I certainly don’t think an ACTA rejection would improve the TPPs chances in the future anyway.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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