When I was a kid there was an excellent Canadian news magazine television series called W5 which taught me (and probably other Canadian watching) about the five spokes of journalistic inquiry.
Since the mainstream news media has declined to cover ACTA in any meaningful way, I thought I’d say a few words here.
Participating in ACTA
- the European Union
- South Korea
- New Zealand
- United States
ACTA came with heavy duty Non-Disclosure penalties. Which is why most if not all of the elected representatives of the participating governments were kept in the dark about what was even on the table. This includes elected representatives of the American Government. If they were made privvy to the negotiations, they were legally restrained from talking about it. Not very democratic, eh?
Of the few Americans who were at all aware of ACTA, most believed that Congressional oversight would protect them, and if conditions were untenable to American citizens it would have been possible to stop ACTA at that point. The problem was, however, that ACTA was proceeding under an executive order, so only the president’s signature would be necessary for ratification.
ACTA stands for Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement.
The problem is, that is only part of it. The scope of ACTA is actually much wider.
ACTA was supposed to be negotiated in secret.
Presumably to keep out the riff raff (i.e. citizens, consumer interest groups)
Although deliberately not mentioned in the title, it seems clear that the primary purpose of ACTA was always to deal with copyright enforcement. The intent was to do an end run around WIPO, the successor to Berne, which was previously the International means of achieving copyright treaties. The WIPO process was transparent, so that everyone knew what was being negotiated. ACTA was secret, so that no one would know.
The United States Trade Representative (USTR) selected the countries they believed it would be possible to pressure into signing an agreement beneficial to certain American Corporate Interests.
The negotiation “rounds” took place around the world.
Begun by the Bush administration in 2007, continuing until now, ACTA has been pushed equally hard by the Obama administration, and in the current president invoked national security as a means of keeping the terms secret.
ACTA was put on a fast track in an effort to shoehorn it’s passage in time for it to become a “done deal” before the American federal elections in November.
The USTR wants the entire world to conform to their agenda, which is dictated by American corporate interests.
Issues the United States would not give in on included recognizing and paying royalties for American use of European geographical trademarked names for types of cheese (like “Parmesan”) or alcoholic beverages (“Cognac” or “Champagne”)
The copyright terms of ACTA appear to have been largely dictated by the MPAA and RIAA, and in many ways seek to impose DMCA like copyright conditions on the rest of the world. Yet the DMCA has not actually been good for American citizens or culture, in fact causing many unintended chilling effects. Over the course of the DMCA’s existence, it has undergone repeated constitutional challenges which has resulted in changes that lessen it’s grip.
In the mean time, there has been an unprecedented amount of American lobbying efforts directed at influencing the copyright law of other countries, I think to alter their domestic copyright law in order to make signing ACTA work. The Digital Economy Act was rushed though the U.K. Parliament without the usual level of democratic scrutiny or debate under the “wash-up” process.
Canada has been subject to USTR pressure and lobbying efforts for nearly a decade. Repeated spurious inclusion on the USTR’s piracy watch list has provided a patina of legitimacy to completely unfounded rumours of Canadian copyright infringement, when in fact a growing body of evidence indicates Canada’s incidence of copyright piracy is far lower than American. As well, this false allegation has been used over and over again to fuel misinformation and propaganda in lobbying attempts to force Canada to rewrite our copyright law to American specifications.
Nowhere is this more clearly evident than in the fact that first the Liberal Party of Canada and then the Conservative Party of Canada have tabled draft legislation that mirrors American copyright law. Some have said these three are close enough to the American DMCA to be themselves considered infringing on it’s copyright.
Yet that isn’t really a charge that could stick, because unlike Canada, the United States does not have “Crown Copyright.” Any Intellectual Property generated by the American Government goes directly into the public domain under the assumption that having alreasdy been paid for, it should not be paid for again. In this way everything from NASA photos to American legislation are not protected by copyright.
This is just one of the ways American copyright law is “weaker” than Canadian existing copyright law.
the real “why”
Commercial counterfeiting, also called “bootlegging” most probably does cut into MPAA/RIAA profits. And like me, most people opposing ACTA and laws like the UK DEA or Canada’s Bill C-32 don’t have a problem with cracking down on commercial bootlegging.
My problem is they are trying to change the laws of ownership to make sharing illegal.
The people pushing for these laws have indicated they think personal back-ups and format shifting should be illegal. I’ve also heard it said that consumers shouldn’t be allowed to lend their digital books or CDs or DVDs to others; the Industries want every person who gets access to these works of “Intellectual Property” to pay for the access. In the extreme this means that both parent and child will require a license in order for the parent to read their child a story.
Some would say that this is the extreme, and that it hasn’t yet happened under the DMCA.
But ACTA has NOT passed.
Once laws like this are universal those things will start becoming accepted. ludicrous or not. The fact that a young Chicago woman spent two nights in jail for videotaping her sister’s birthday party under the existing DMCA is proof enough for me.
From an industry standpoint, that would be the icing on the cake, but is not the real goal.
Stopping “piracy” is another red herring.
While Industry studies may show vast losses of income due to peer to peer (p2p) filesharing, independent studies have shown that p2p actually increases industry profits because it increases exposure. The same way that radio airplay increases exposure and sold records, and now CDs.
The real goal of draconian copyright measures being contemplated or implemented is to stop independent access to distribution.
The combination of vast decrease in the costs to production of digital media with the ease of Internet distribution is the true menace to the media giants represented by the MPAA and the RIAA.
In Canada almost a year ago, This Magazine reported that 30% of the Canadian Recording Industry is now Independent. Independent Canadian Artists no longer have to barter away their copyright in order to record or distribute their music. This is the real threat to the Incumbents. Ultimately the goal of the copyright law they want to pass is to stop this Independent erosion of their control of these Industries.
This trend is not confined to music. Internet video productions are beginning to become more common, and excellent feature films like Sita Sings the Blues and Die Beauty are being made by independent creators and distributed legally via p2p online.
It’s the LEGAL p2p traffic that they really need to stop.
Because the best way for Independent Artists to distribute their digital wares is through the Internet.
Which is why ACTA is bad.
This is why p2p is actually good for culture, and Net Neutrality must be protected.