The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is a global anti-piracy treaty that was developed a long time ago by several governments. The secrecy of ACTA negotiations has angered digital rights groups and press worldwide.
On October 1, 2011, the treaty was signed in Tokyo by the United States, Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, New Zealand and Morocco. Last week marked an important milestone when 22 EU countries signed ACTA during a ceremony at Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
ACTA was secretly developed in 2006 by Japan and the U.S., but in May 2008, a discussion paper about the proposed agreement was released on the Wikileaks website. The paper said ACTA would allow governments to “shut down websites associated with non-commercial copyright infringement” and to “set up an international agency that could force Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to provide information about subscribers suspected of copyright infringers without a warrant.” It was then that officials began to comment about ACTA. In November 2008, the EU commission issued the following statement:
The negotiations are still ongoing…At a preliminary stage of the discussions about the idea of a future ACTA, some of the negotiating parties have submitted concept papers, to present their initial views of the project to other partners. Some of these concept papers have been circulated on the net or commented in the press and presented as ‘draft ACTA texts or negotiating guidelines,’ which they are not.
Why ACTA Could Harm Everyone
If you read ACTA, you will learn that this treaty blurs the lines between piracy and counterfeiting, and throws them together in the same hat. To speed adoption, “ACTA was slipped through the European Council in an agriculture and fisheries meeting in December” as a trade agreement, so that it didn’t get much debate, Wired explains.
ACTA is an international treaty that forces Internet Service Providers to gather information from users and store it for governments. Emails, financial transactions and every action you make from your personal computer will be stored and could be used against you, in silence, without a warrant.
ACTA could harm everyone because it’s ambiguous. For example, Article 23 states that “criminal liability for aiding and abetting (copyright infringement) is available under its law” and insists on “criminal procedures and penalties.” To sum it up, ACTA’s consequences are Internet censorship, restricted freedom of speech, no network neutrality, total surveillance over online activities, and restrictions of civil rights.
Who Supports ACTA?
Like SOPA, ACTA is backed by major copyright holders such as pharmaceutical companies, movie studios and record labels, including: GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, Sanofi-Aventis, Monsanto Company, Time Warner, Sony, Verizon, The Walt Disney Company, the Motion Picture Association of America, News Corporation and Viacom.
Who Opposes ACTA?
ACTA is opposed by digital right groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). EFF opposed ACTA from the start, denouncing the secrecy around negotiations and the fact that the officials didn’t want to discuss it. Even if it looks like the European Commission supports it, the European Parliament is unanimously against it. ACTA is also opposed by La Quadrature du Net, the Anonymous hacker group, the Pirate Party, Reporters without Borders, Oxfam, and 13 Sakharov Laureates.
A short time after the 22 EU countries signed the treaty, Kader Arif, a French MEP denounced the signing of ACTA, calling it a “charade,” and decided to not take part in further support, even though he had played a role in its creation. The European deputy claimed that ACTA was accelerated so that the public would not be alerted, ignoring the right of expression of the Parliament.
I want to denounce as the greatest of all the processes that led to the signing of this agreement: no association of civil society, lack of transparency from the beginning of negotiations, successive postponements of the signing of the text without any explanation being given, setting aside the claims of the European Parliament [despite those views being] expressed in several resolutions of our Assembly.
I faced unprecedented manoeuvres of the right of Parliament to impose an accelerated schedule to pass the agreement as soon as possible before the public is alerted, thereby depriving Parliament of its right of expression and the tools at its disposal to carry the legitimate demands of citizens.
This agreement may have a major impact on the lives of our citizens, and yet everything is done so that the European Parliament has no say. I will not participate in this charade.
What Actions Can You Take?
Like every citizen in the world, you have the right to protest against ACTA. You can access La Quadrature du Net website to learn ways to take action against the treaty. Hearing that the ACTA treaty was signed without their knowledge, several European citizens gathered in Poland to protest it, all saying that this is pure censorship. Despite the 22 countries that signed ACTA last week, this will not become an EU law if the European Parliament votes against it in June.
Marietje Schaake, a member of the EU Parliament and International Trade Comission, said that we “can convince the EP to vote against ACTA” until the final plenary vote.
Before you choose what to do — support or oppose the ACTA treaty — remember the consequences: Internet censorship, restricted freedom of speech, no network neutrality, total surveillance over online activities, and restrictions of civil rights.