The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) currently being discussed by several of the world’s leading countries, will undoubtedly lead to stricter ant-piracy legislation. The problem though, is that nobody really knows what it will entail. The EU refuses to make the drafts public, which makes it impossible for the public to review the documents before they are signed.
The degree of secrecy surrounding the ACTA negotiations is astonishing. Many institutions, the press and various individuals have requested that the participating countries provide an insight into their plans, but to no avail. It almost seems they are actively blocking the public from having their say, while in contrast they continue to receive input from anti-piracy lobbyists such as the RIAA and MPAA.
At this stage, little is known about ACTA, but what we do know is that the RIAA has put forward some radical proposals. One of their suggestions was to force ISPs to become ‘copyright cops’, ordering them to filter out pirated files on their networks, and making the ISPs liable if they fail to respond to the demands of copyright holders. That, in addition to the request for an official crime unit to track down and bust alleged pirates.
Most governments that have commented on the ACTA negotiations have refused to reveal any information about its contents, but were quick to refute rumors. According to the New Zealand government (ppt), ACTA is aimed at commercial piracy only, and no one has to be worried about getting their iPod through customs. Nevertheless, they also stress that “draft versions of the text will not be made available.”
According to the FFII, all this secrecy goes against EU regulations, and in response they have filed a complaint with the Ombudsman against the EU Council for concealing ACTA documents. “Making agreements to keep texts secret goes much further than allowed. The Council deliberately obstructs access to ACTA documents,” FFII analyst Ante Wessels commented. FFII requests that the documents should be made public. Alternatively, the EU could withdraw from the negotiations, they say.
Bottom line is this: we don’t know what the plans for ACTA are, and it is impossible to remedy this since requests for information are denied at all levels. There is no good reason to keep them secret either, other than to prevent the public and other institutions voicing their opinion on the proposal before it is signed. Convenient perhaps, but not very democratic.