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Global: Concerns About Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA)

Categories: Latin America, Mexico, Citizen Media, Digital Activism, Economics & Business, International Relations, Law, Media & Journalism, Protest, Technology

The last meeting of negotiations for the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA [1]) has provoked the protest of online communities against both its content and the circumstances of their negotiations. The main point of the agreement, which currently involves more than 11 countries, is to deal directly with the piracy on Internet through the construction of a legal framework that will strengthen the protection of the intellectual property rights in each country.

Those behind the agreement cite the need to combat all forms of piracy of intellectual property. Twitter user Juan José Burciaga (@jjbfigueroa) agrees with the basic reasons for an agreement, but not at all costs [2].

La piratería es un cancer contra el cual debemos de luchar, pero no pisoteando las garantias individuales de las personas #ACTA #OPENACTA

Piracy is a cancer that we all must struggle against, but not stepping over the individual rights of the people #ACTA #OPENACTA

With this, many users are worried about whether their user data will remain private if Internet Service Providers (ISP) are forced to provide that information, and whether the penalties would be too harsh. In addition, much has been said about the way that negotiations have been carried out, since the agenda and the advances of each meeting have been regulated under confidentiality clauses.

Current countries involved in the negotiations include Australia, Canada, members of the European Union, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland, and the United States. Recently, a leaked document revealed details of the enforcement system to be implemented in several of them: anti-circumvention tools beyond the DMCA [3], take down notices, a liability scheme for Internet Service Providers and the three strikes rule that will allow any service provider to disconnect the user from the Internet.

Calls for Greater Transparency

Michael Geist, professor of the University of Ottawa and one of the leaders against ACTA, offered an unofficial summary of the seventh meeting [4], which took part during the last days of January [5] in Guadalajara, Mexico and the stances of some countries regarding transparency. You can follow further discussions on ACTA by Prof Geist by subscribing to his RSS on ACTA [6].

During the seventh meeting, many from the Mexican online community protested in Twitter under the hashtags #Acta [7]and #openActa [8], demanding ACTA to make the agenda public and the documents of the agreement available for public scrutiny.

Photo by Neto González. Used following a Creative Commons license. Taken from http://www.flickr.com/photos/netogonzalez/4270933008/ [9]

Photo by Neto González. Used following a Creative Commons license. Taken from http://www.flickr.com/photos/netogonzalez/4270933008/

After the movement of #InternetNecesario [10] that defended the Internet from being taxed by the Mexican government, the dialogue between Twitter users and authorities was more direct, and it included participants such as the president of the Science and Technology Commission of the Senate, Javier Castellón, who appealed through Twitter the need of transparency of the agreement [es] [11], as the negotiations were held in his country:

Informo al grupo de las negociaciones de ACTA y de la demanda de mayor transparencia e informacion al senado. Manifiestan interes

I inform the group of the ACTA negotiations and of the demand for an increase in transparency and information for the Senate. They are interested.

An important part of the protest was channeled through Open Acta [es], both website [es] [12] and Twitter [es] [13], which has the objective of making public the documents of the agreement [es] [14] “so a real public and democratic discussion about its content and its reach can be begin.” It started its activity 2 years ago when the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property [es] [15] (IMPI, in Spanish) regarding ACTA [es] announced that it would join to the ACTA negotiations by asking citizens to send their suggestions to the agreement.

One citizen who tried to give her input was Twitter user, Geraldine Juárez, representative from the civil organization Mexican Pirate Party [es] [16] and known in Twitter as Miss Pirata (now offline [17]), , who shared a story about how she tried to become involved through contributing her input to the IMPI. [18] She wrote about the meeting with the IMPI and how she protested by abruptly leaving when she was asked not to tweet about the meeting:

Me salí, enojada sí. Pero también me quedó claro que esto es un asunto serio en el cuál la autoridad apoya a la industria públicamente y que no esta dispuesta a ceder por una ciudadana con una postura que disiente completamente, no solo en cuanto al proceso de negociación del ACTA, sino de la penosa injerencia de la industria del entretenimiento en para controlar la libertad de mi país y en mi mundo: Internet.

Yes, I left angry. But it was also clear that this is a serious matter where authorities openly support industry, but it is not willing to concede to opposing approaches from citizens, not only in the negotiation process of ACTA, but the shameful interference of the entertainment industry in order to control the liberty of my country and my world: Internet.

For the seventh meeting, Open Acta called for emails to the Senate [es] [19] to “demand transparency, rights and liberties and respect to the fundamental principle of the web.”

Possible New Legal Frameworks

There are other concerns about the agreement. Alejandro Pisanty, one of the leaders of the #InternetNecesario movement, commented on his blog about the repercussions of ACTA [es] on legal structures in each of the countries [20]:

En lo que se sabe, de manera parcial, extraoficial e informal, hay bases para temer que ACTA pueda llevar a la necesidad de que algunos países creen legislación nueva (por ejemplo, un país puede tener que crear legislación, ahora inexistente allí, que permita la persecución de la piratería como un delito, persecución ex-officio cuando ahora sólo es mediante acusación), a aplicaciones draconianas de la legislación existente, a la supresión o debilitamiento de la presunción de inocencia, y a la creación de un ambiente poco conducente al acceso al conocimiento, a compartirlo y a la creación colectiva de nuevos arte, ciencia, reflexión y conocimiento. No es posible en este momento confirmar o desmentir con base en documentos oficiales que esto ocurra, ni lo contrario. El tema requiere vigilancia constante.

What it is known, partially, unofficially and informally, that there are reasons to fear that ACTA might lead countries in the need to create new legislation (an example, a country might have to create a legislation, now nonexistent, that allow the prosecution of piracy as a crime, ex-officio prosecution, although currently that can happen only through an accusation), to draconian exercises of the existent legislation, to the elimination or weakening of the presumption of innocence, and to the formation of an environment that does not facilitate access to knowledge, to sharing, and to the collective creativity of new types of art, science, reflection and knowledge. It is not possible in this moment to confirm or deny with official documents that this could happen nor the opposite. The subject needs constant surveillance.

Protection of User Data and Harsh Penalties

Another subject of discussion was the access to sensitive information of Internet users, as pointed out by one of the official documents leaked. However, the AMIPCI publicly rejected [es] [21] any chance of forcing the Internet service providers to share private user data about those users suspected of illegal activities.

There are also reports that there is a proposal to implement a three strikes policy for any user that engages in illegal file sharing. The penalty for this is disconnection from their internet service. Cory Doctorow, blogger and journalist, argues in this video [4] (available in English, French and Italian) that the Internet is too central to our lives to be taken away for three accusations of copyright infringement, like a death penalty.

The eighth meeting for negotiations will be held on New Zealand, in April 2010. Different organizations like EFF [22], Reporters without borders [23] and IP Watch [24], are concerned with the future of the Net, the lack of transparency and openness that should be implemented by exemplary democracies in the world like the countries involved in the negotiations. Furthermore, citizens are demanding their authorities transparency and access to the negotiation and a public consultation to have a word on it by organizing meetings in different locations, blogging-twitting in different languages, and sharing documents and concerns via the web.

Renata Avila contributed to the article