Secretly-Negotiated "Anti-Piracy" Treaty Stalls In Europe: ACTA News

On Tuesday February 14th, 2012, Bulgaria joined European neighbors (Cyprus, Estonia, Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Holland) in tapping the brakes on the approval process for the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement ("ACTA").

As many readers of this blog already know, ACTA is a new treaty - originally cooked up by Japan and the U.S. (negotiations apparently started in secret after the 2005 G8 Summit - at the behest of big media companies - between trade representatives of the administration of President George Bush and Japan) - that was set to be ratified by members of the EU, but instead has recently lead to street protests across Europe.

Proponents say ACTA is necessary to fight "piracy" and that the new treaty, which operates outside existing international bodies, such as the United Nations ("UN") and the World Trade Organization ("WTO"), would improve how signatory countries work with one another on the issues of counterfeiting and copyright theft.

Opponents of ACTA worry that big media companies are simply using a secretive and non-representative treaty process to mount yet another effort to censor the internet.

In the US, proponents of ACTA are saying that the President has the authority to sign the treaty (and that the signature of US Trade Representative Ron Kirk, who signed the treaty in October 2011, is binding on the US) - bypassing the US Congress, where constituent outrage recently defeated the "anti-piracy" legislation known as SOPA. But some Constitutional experts are predicting a court challenge over the President's authority to endorse ACTA without debate and formal ratification by Congress.

Harvey Anderson, the general counsel for software company Mozilla, is an ACTA opponent, who sees the treaty (and the efforts to dodge a formal ratification process in the US) as an effort to circumvent representative government and public debate, “ACTA should not be a back door to the legislative process to enact the same requirements US citizens just overwhelmingly opposed.”

It's undeniably true that ACTA was negotiated in secret. The treaty first came to light when Wikileaks published a (leaked) discussion paper. Then, "[a]fter repeated failed attempts by numerous groups to request the text of the treaty, the countries negotiating ACTA released a working draft in 2010."

According to a February 14th, 2012 report by Alex Fitzpatrick for Mashable opponents (who now have access to the full text of ACTA), worry that the treaty "could have disastrous consequences for free speech and an open, international Internet."

For example, the Electronic Frontier Foundation ("EFF"), a non-profit organization that aims to protect free speech online, has said that “ACTA has several features that raise significant potential concerns for consumers’ privacy and civil liberties for innovation and the free flow of information on the Internet legitimate commerce and for developing countries’ ability to choose policy options that best suit their domestic priorities and level of economic development.”

The EFF (and others) are especially concerned about the provisions of ACTA that call on Internet Service Providers ("ISP"s) to provide copyright holders with information about users accused of illegally hosting protected content. This ISP eaves-dropping and sharing of information (with big media and government authorities) - coupled with vaguely-worded but ominous requirements in ACTA that signatory countries enact legal remedies against technological innovations that could be used to circumvent copyright - have free speech advocates deeply concerned.

These concerns may explain why ACTA has stalled in Bulgaria and is encountering opposition in Germany, Poland and in the Dutch parliament. Lawmakers in these European countries - in response to mass protests - have said they want more time to examine the treaty’s potential effects on Internet privacy before moving forward with ratification.

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