1 February 2012 by Pelle Neroth
Some activists and legal experts claim even this latest iteration of the agreement will change the internet as we know it. Others say that, while its original draft was harmful, much the sting has been taken out. The negotiations have not been conducted very transparently, and there hasn't been much informed debate about it.
The member states (minus Germany, The Netherlands and three east European countries) may have signed ACTA, but it still has to be ratified by the European parliament and the national parliaments. The EP was caught by surprise by the member states signing, according to an MEP monitoring the issue closely.
They have to contend with public opinion. There were demonstrations in Poland, and Polish MPs in Warsaw all donned their Guy Fawkes masks in protest, while several European government websites found themselves under attack by the hackers' group Anonymous in the past few days. There will be a vote in the plenary in June; if it fails at the European parliament, it fails in Europe - whatever member states have already signed.
The final draft that member states signed lacked the controversial three-strikes-of-illegal-downloading-and-then you'll-be-cut off clause; it also lacked the provision that ISPs will be responsible for the activities of their customers. But 40 so law professors and IP experts recently published a report containing a worried analysis of the remaining flaws in the agreement. Basically, they say, ACTA - already signed by the US, Japan and Australia - tried to impose America's harsh copyright laws on the rest of the world without the mitigating aspects like fair use laws.
It could become illegal to tamper will digital rights management restrictions. It could be possible for rights holders- the music and publishing industries - to make ISPs monitor copy right infringers or just suspected copyright infringers just on the industry's say so; police and judicial authorities will also be able to make monitoring requests just on suspicion. It will combine with a provision that criminalises not just blatant commercial use but also pirating for the purpose of "economic advantage". Some believe people who copy an e-book from their PC to their I-Pad will be caught up in the provision, since this saves money over buying a second book and so could count as "economic advantage".
The ACTA agreement is flexible enough and so hedged in with optional implementations that the "don't worry" brigade, which includes the European commission, says nothing will really change for their average surfer Unless domestic legislators tighten up domestic copyrights ACTA can be seen as a framework for what is permissible rather than a strict set of impositions. Some analysts believe that the real target is developing countries who will encouraged - rather forcefully - level up their copyright standards to EU and US standards if they wish to trade with the rich world.
ACTA started as an anti counterfeiting directive - think Rolexes and handbags - and that is where its political heart probably still remains. Intellectual property is Europe's crown jewel against China and India. On current evidence, the European parliament is extremely against it - the open internet lobby has always been surprisingly successful in its corridors.
If ACTA does end up in the rubbish bin of dead legislation, maybe it's worth looking at whether there are any aspects of ACTA worth saving to be implemented in a fresh, new proposal.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 01 February 2012 10:25 PM Legislation
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