12 July 2012 by Pelle Neroth
There is an enormous amount of hype on the internet about the ACTA issue. ACTA stands for Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. I think the European Parliament probably made the right decision, although it kind of contradicts its support for the European Unified Patent court, which is another cross-border intellectual property enforcement mechanism. (I will be writing about it in my magazine column, which will be cross published here next week.)
Perhaps it is to ask too much of legislative bodies that they be consistent, or perhaps there is greater fear of the long arm of US law than the long arm of other member states' laws.
The principle is a laudable. Intellectual property is property. People who try to make a living by their ideas - like writers, journalists, programmers, musicians - have a right to be compensated for their work. There are websites in foreign jurisdictions that host large amounts of copyrighted materials. Ebook versions of best sellers, entire publishers' lists, indeed engineering manuals. Whole films, music albums, etc.
The treaty's stated aim was that sites in one country that intruded on copyrights held in another could be more easily shut down than at present. There is also a counterfeit goods provision in ACTA, but we won't complicate things for now.
Talks about ACTA began between the US and Japan in 2006 expanded to include another half dozen countries plus the US, and was signed by 27 EU leaders as well as Australia, the US and Japan last year. What it needed to go through for Europe's purposes was ratification by the European parliament.
The "adults" - the governments who signed ACTA - are surely right in principle on this one. If you talk to under-30s, 95% download movies without any qualms that the content creators won't be paid. And yet so many under 30s want to become musicians, journalists or film makers themselves. Go figure.
And yet the ACTA signatories are not quite consistent either. Is ACTA aimed at the big global websites? Maybe three-quarters of all the material on Youtube is copyright. Youtube is a $36bn American corporation based on hosted pirated material. Youtube is owned by Google, the mega corporation whose revenue comes from placing ads on other people's websites, including pages that hosted pirated material.
It may be tempting to wear the sceptic's hat and think the American negotiators were not exactly targeting their own corporations when drawing up this legislation, which was fast tracked outside regular forums for Intellectual Property talks, which have been bogged down for ages.
Which raises the suspicion the real purpose of ACTA was to target the small guy - like the British student who published links to movie download websites. There needs to be much better quality of discussion of what the internet really is about before justice is served by this legislation.
Anyhow, the just-for-free generation mobilised in their thousands in dozens of European and American cities earlier this year to protest against ACTA. The debate has been quieter in Britain, perhaps because the UK is one of the world's biggest producers of intellectual property. The Germans and the East Europeans, keen downloaders of movies and music, also have an allergy to online censorship and increased monitoring due to their Nazi and Communist pasts. The European Parliament was the recipient of an unprecedented lobbying campaign from various digital rights campaigning groups.
Conspiracy theorists could point to the negotiations over ACTA being carried out in secret among a small number of negotiators. (Except that is how most negotiations are carried out, at least initially, to prevent people from being tied to extreme positions.) While digital rights groups such as EDRI point to some proportionality issues. According to EDRI, the legislation was so vaguely worded that someone hosting copyrighted photos on their homepage blog might be able to be prosecuted if it had enough viewers so it could be counted as commercial. (Again: the commercial being vague. A lawyer's paradise.)
While the legislation was written in a way to reassure those who worried that their Ipods with pirated songs might be confiscated at the airport, so that would not happen, there seemed to be a provision for opening people's mail to see whether they contained USB sticks with pirated music.
And then there was the question of damages, where people downloading pirated stuff could be held to the full commercial values of their rips. With a one terabyte disk we are talking hundreds of thousands of dollars.
And would US Congress ratify ACTA? US Congress for several years failed to ratify the 2003 US UK extradition treaty, raising fears it could do the same here to make ACTA a one way piece of legislation, applying to Europeans but not Americans.
If nothing else, the debate around ACTA reveals a profound distrust of the United States. To a growing number of Europeans, Obama, with his targeting killings by drone and covert operatives, has proved in many ways even less multilateral than president Bush ever was. Others have argued all these anti ACTA arguments are hysterical and overwrought.
In fierce debates and workshops these arguments have been aired in the European Parliament and succeeded in getting five committees to reject ACTA and finally the plenary session to reject it as well last week.
The European Commission says it will wait for a European Court of Justice judgment to see what do next as the Commissioner for Trade Karel de Gucht still wants some kind of ACTA on the books. This may be optimistic. The wind has gone out of ACTA and Germany's justice minister has said the agreement is weakly written, so the chances are it will rest here. But the discussion about piracy, copyright, intellectual property lives on.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 12 July 2012 10:22 AM Legislation
FuseTalk Standard Edition - © 1999-2013 FuseTalk Inc. All rights reserved.
"Africa is abundant with engineering opportunity. We look at some of the projects and the problems."
- "Contracts for Difference" in the Explanatory Notes to the Energy Bill [02:02 pm 22/05/13]
- Isolation for repair of transformer feeder [12:56 pm 22/05/13]
- Old LV Switchgear replacement Companies [12:54 pm 22/05/13]
- Delegated Powers Memorandum [12:33 pm 22/05/13]
- E&T magazine - Debate - Formula 1 technology [11:07 am 22/05/13]
Tune into our latest podcast