What is ACTA?

by JoHarrington

After the success of seeing SOPA and PIPA shelved in the USA, activists have now set their sights on the global Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement.

Across the world, the spotlight is being shone on a diplomatic trade agreement called ACTA. It's been billed as a way of stamping out cheap imitation goods, which may be sold without the controls imposed upon the original's manufacturer.

Supporters state that it is merely a measure of controlling copyright infringement on the world wide web.

Detractors fear that it will impose censorship and restrict freedom of speech throughout the internet.

Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement
Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement

Polish Activists Oppose ACTA On-Line and On the Streets

Prime Minister Tusk's website has been kept off-line for days by furious hackers. Meanwhile Poles amassed with banners in the nation's capital.

The Poles are angry. On January 24th 2012, thousands of protesters took to the streets of Warsaw, opposing the imminent signing of a treaty passing across the desk of Prime Minister Donald Tusk. Many more were marching in Wroclaw and Wloclawek. They all had one common message  - Stop ACTA.

This physical presence followed several days wherein the hack-tivists Team Polish Underground had taken Polish governmental websites off-line for prolonged periods of time. Throughout Sunday and Monday, sites belonging to President Bronisław Komorowski and the Minister of Culture Bogdan Zdrojewski were both unavailable.

At the time of writing, Prime Minister Tusk's website is still unable to load. On Sunday, the site's homepage displayed anti-ACTA slogans, information and a video explaining to the Polish people what was at stake.

Some news reports erroneously stated that Anonymous were responsible. Several Twitter accounts belonging to those (in)famous Hack-tivists showed mass support for the actions in Poland.

However the hacked homepage clearly stated that Polish Underground were the group behind the cyber-attacks. It also included a statement, in bold, red writing, in the footer further clarifying that the hackers were not affiliated with Anonymous.

One anti-ACTA campaigner Trish Keehl described the mood in her country, "Trust me, walking through the Polish internet is like seeing the whole nation going against the ACTA. Everywhere, petitions, images..."

Prime Minister Tusk was forced to hold a press conference, while demonstrators filled the streets outside. He stated that, "There will be no concessions to brutal blackmail." Furthermore, he vowed that Poland would sign the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) on Thursday.

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What is the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement?

It is being billed as a wider-reaching treaty than either SOPA or PIPA. Several governments have already signed it.

Photo: Bush and McCarthyOn January 26th 2012, Poland looks set to become the 9th signatory to the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). 

It is a treaty which has its genesis in the Bush administration in the USA, but it has only just been ratified by the nations involved.

As the name implies, ACTA was developed to stop imitation products being branded with established names. For example, vendors would be unable to sell cheap watches under the name Rolex or pretend that a cover artist is really Bruce Springsteen. No medicine could be relabeled to make it appear to come from a patented source.

Those owning the copyright would no longer have to rely upon national laws, in the place where the item was sold, because the individual could be prosecuted under this new trade agreement.

None of this is why activists are up in arms. The issue is the scope of the provisions made in the treaty. The term 'counterfeiting' could be used against on-line content, such as file-shared documents and other media.

Any website which relies upon user uploaded submissions would become instantly vulnerable. Once again platforms like Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Reddit would be forced to become so restricted that they would be unable to continue.

Moreover, ACTA makes provision for 'ideas' amongst the protection for intellectual copyright. If it had been current in 1591, Shakespeare could never have written Romeo and Juliet. That play borrowed heavily from Arthur Brooke's The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet, written just 30 years before. It would have been seen as an idea theft for all its widely perceived superiority.

The concern of activists is that the trade agreement will seek to criminalize creativity and freedom of information on the internet. In this regard, it shares many features with the already shelved US bills, SOPA and PIPA.

The Revolution is Now Explains ACTA

Anti-ACTA Items on the Web

Wear your heart on your sleeve with things designed to raise awareness about ACTA.

A History of Secrecy Surrounding the Treaty

ACTA has had its existence denied and then been branded a 'matter of national security' by two US governments.

Photo: SecrecyMuch of the furore over ACTA has its roots in the extreme secrecy surrounding a treaty that has largely been negotiated and signed behind closed doors. The public didn't even know it existed until a document, provided by a whistle-blower, was posted on the WikiLeaks website. According to that, ACTA had been launched in October 2007.

A year later, the US Bush administration were still denying that it even existed. Standford McCoy stated that negotiations were forthcoming, but no discussions had taken place which involved internet use. Instead the agreement was focusing upon extant 'border measures and enforcement practices', rather than brand new regulations.

By 2009, there was a new president in the White House and activists hoped this would lead to greater transparency. Unfortunately, when Jamie Love, director of Knowledge Ecology International, filed for access to the ACTA documents, he was refused. Chief FOIA Officer Carmen Suro-Bredie wrote that the materials were 'classified in the interest of national security'.

Since then, several other groups were similarly rejected, after attempting to demand copies of the treaty through the Freedom of Information Acts which governed their respective countries.

Who was Denied Access to the Draft Proposals of ACTA?

  • Australian Digital Alliance
  • Canadian Library Association
  • Consumers Union (US)
  • Consumers Union (Japan)
  • Doctors Without Borders' Campaign for Essential Medicines
  • Electronic Frontier Foundation
  • Essential Action
  • Global Trade Watch
  • IP Justice
  • IP Left (Korea)
  • Knowledge Ecology International
  • National Consumer Council (UK)
  • Public Knowledge
  • U.S. Public Interest Research Group

Finally, in 2010, a copy of ACTA was released causing outrage and anxiety throughout the more tech-savvy internet communities.

It is only in the wake of the successful campaigns against SOPA and PIPA, that the usually apathetic masses have been fired up and ready to learn about similar threats to their on-line lives. The next country lined up to sign ACTA was Poland, hence the sudden groundswell of national and international activism focusing there.

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Which governments have already signed ACTA?

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Japan
  • Morocco
  • New Zealand
  • Singapore
  • South Korea
  • United States of America

The Polish government are in the process of committing their country to this treaty too.

Which governments are considering signing ACTA?

  • European Union member states
  • Mexico
  • Switzerland

Who originally developed and wrote ACTA?

Several nations have been involved in talks about the agreement, but the proposals were authored in just two countries.

The Japanese and US governments first proposed the treaty in 2006. They were joined at the negotiating table by several corporations, lobbyists and other advisory committees. Amongst their number are:

  • US Industry Trade Advisory Committee On Intellectual Property Rights (members include representatives from Time Warner, Cisco Systems, Biotechnology Industry Organization, Entertainment Software Association, Recording Industry Association of America, IBM Corporation and General Motors Corporation).
  • US Industry Trade Advisory Committee On Chemicals, Pharmaceuticals, Health Science Products and Services (members include representatives from Schering-Plough Corporation, General Pharmaceutical Association, Milliken Chemical, American Chemistry Council, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer Inc.)
  • US Industry Trade Advisory Committee On Information and Communications Technologies, Services, and Electronic Commerce (members include representatives from IBM Corporation, General Motors Corporation, The Boeing Company, AbleMedia LLC, Sun Microsystems Inc and the U.S. Coalition of Service Industries.)
  • US Industry Trade Advisory Committee On Services and Finance Industries (members include American Council of Life Insurers, FedEx Express, Motion Picture Association of America, Computing Technology Industry Association, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Prudential Financial and Wal-Mart Stores.)

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Updated: on 03/18/2014, JoHarrington
 
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JoHarrington on 02/02/2012

Thank you for the head's up. I didn't know that the Czech Republic was so close to signing ACTA. I was aware that the treaty had been passed by the EU, so it was only a matter of time before it spread through Europe.

I agree that awareness certainly needs to be raised. Thank you for commenting.

ShersAndroid on 02/02/2012

You've written an excellent article about ACTA. Being close to Poland, the Czechs have also been against it, though the government has agreed to the provisions. People need to be made more aware of the possible ways ACTA could be used against normal every day people.



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