Report – US Unsure of Signing ACTA

ACTA (the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) has had its share of bumps on the road towards its final agreement. Sometimes it looked like it was on track and other times, it looked like it could very well fly completely off the rails. It seems the latter is very present right now.

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

When it came to ACTA when it first appeared online back in 2008. There was a lot of well-placed fear about the agreement. A group of people secretly meeting in various places around the world that would side-step various governing bodies to pass legislation that would be thrust in to various countries around the world with great pressure to implement it.

Throughout 2008 and 2009, ACTA was the stuff conspiracy theories were were made of. Rumors about iPod searches at the borders of different countries, a world-wide DMCA and a mandatory three strikes regime throughout the world were some of the more dramatic revelations that came out of the agreements that were leaked online by Wikileaks. For supporters of ACTA, it appeared to be a major stepping stone to ramping up copyright laws around the world to be even tighter than ever. Judging by the two sides, it looked like it was human rights versus corporate interests fight and many knew it was going to be an extremely tense battle.

That was then.

2010 appears to have been a turning point in the stability of ACTA. The threat of ACTA becoming law in many countries around the world eased not because of external outrage, but internal struggle. Internal tension and differences between countries might turn out yet to be the biggest enemy to the survival of the hotly debated agreement.

The biggest source of tension that most likely would cause a breakdown in the agreement comes from the differences between the United States and the European Union. This first surfaced back in February of this year and the tensions became even more apparent as time went on. February was the first appearance of cracks within the seemingly impenetrable fortress of ACTA and while negotiators tried to assure everyone that ACTA was on time and ready to sign almost immediately, deadlines being set came and went without all the countries signing – and this included the most recent “sometime in September” deadline. It’s now October and the treaty has yet to be signed and the differences between the US and EU remain. As the joke goes, “I love deadlines – I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by!”

The tension, however, isn’t exclusively between the US and EU. India and Brazil are already dismissing ACTA with Brazil questioning the legitimacy of ACTA while India says that they have other priorities and see nothing to gain from ACTA. Meanwhile, there is pressure from the domestic side of Mexico – namely from a politician – to walk from ACTA. It’s not hard to see the cracks now getting to the point of dividing many countries and stakeholders on the inside of ACTA.

We already know there have been multiple times now where Europe threatened to walk from ACTA, but the US didn’t seem to express too many doubts about ACTA outside of a couple of politicians expressing concern over the transparency of ACTA. That was, until today according to a well respected observer of copyright issues, Jamie Love.

According to Love, the US is currently only considering signing the treaty. Some observers are, to put it bluntly, surprised because it seemed that the US was practically a shoe-in for signing the treaty. The thing is, the US has been trying very hard to get ACTA signed and signed quickly. To do this, they have been conceding on several key positions including the internet chapter. With so many concessions, ACTA may be becoming a bitter pill to swallow for the US which might explain the hesitation.

Still, with so many sides not budging on key issues, you’d almost think that simply having a large tomato food fight for an hour amongst the negotiators would be more productive – at least that would likely be rather enjoyable for those on the inside and the only people that would be upset would be those trying to wash the red stains out of dry clean only tablecloths and dry clean only silk suits and ties.

At this point in time, it seems that the only country that has expressed full support all the way up to this point was Singapore. So, at this point, if ACTA is going to be saved at this point, it would be through a major salvage operation with negotiators putting Humpty Dumpty ACTA back together again.

ACTA is too big with too many players with too big of a scope with an excruciatingly tight deadline being set that would be tight for an agreement that actually focused exclusively on what the agreement name actually suggests (physical piracy). So many countries are either under pressure to walk, or are already threatening to walk from the table. The EU already threatened to walk multiple times and even the United States is unsure whether or not it wants to sign. The only way I personally see this treaty going through in spite of the divided negotiations is to draw out the negotiations over years and years so that each and every individual piece of the agreement can be worked out in painstaking detail.

If key negotiators carry through on their threats to either walk or simply refuse to sign the agreement, it could be game over for ACTA after, so far, three years of negotiations.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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