Monday, November 23, 2009

ACTA Mattah, You!

The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement is a treaty-in-progress between the United States, the European Community, Switzerland, Japan, Australia, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand, Mexico, Jordan, Morocco, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates and Canada. Nothing has been ratified as yet, and because it is a "trade agreement" there has been almost no disclosure about what it contains. Leaked documents are quite frightening, however. There appears to be a "Three Strikes" rule on the table. The three strikes rule would require that any home accused of accessing or providing pirated works would lose internet access for a year. In entry on the Center for Democracy and Technology blog, "We Are Not Amused" we see that the Queen of England has voiced her approval of such a rule for the UK. According to Britains Department for Business Innovations and Skills (download PDF), apparently the cutting off of internet access would include any type of communication that accesses the web:
"although we continue to regard the uptake and use of Internet services as essential to a digital Britain, we are considering the case for adding suspension of accounts into the list of measures that could be imposed. This does not necessarily mean that suspension would be used - this step would obviously be a very serious sanction as it would affect all members of a household equally, and might disrupt access to other communications, so it should be regarded as very much a last resort."

This is in reference to Britain's Digital Economy Bill. If you're interested, it's Chapter 10 - the amendment to Britains Communications Act of 2003. I'd have provided a direct link, but it wouldn't save in the blog. This type of law has been passed by other countries such as France, and is being looked at by the European Union, independent of ACTA. In some versions, including ACTA, the suspension occurs if you have been accused three times. Convictions are not required.

That is just one of the problems with ACTA. The only review is by the negotiators and lobbying groups - groups that have pushed such anti-consumer legislation as the DMCA. Recently a small number of others have been allowed to see the proposed ACTA document, but only after an approved application and signing a non-disclosure agreement. Why is secrecy for this document so important? Consider:

One of the proposed regulations makes ISP's responsible for the content provided by their customers - contrary to US legal precedent.

Will treat "technical protective measure" (TPM) infringements differently (presumably more severely) than "general infringements". TPM is what we commonly refer to as Digital Rights Management (DRM) in the US.

There will be no requirement for hardware manufacturers to ensure interoperability of TPM's. Imagine having to have a player for each major studio - one for Disney, one for Paramount, one for Dreamworks, etc.

Not part of the agreement, but part of the way trade agreements work - if ACTA is signed by the US Trade Representative (USTR) it is binding. The US will have to enforce it as law, without congress (our representatives) having any say in the matter. The RIAA, MPAA and their foreign counterparts have found a way to get around the laws of their respective countries.

This is something that we really need to jump on and speak to our representatives. We need to demand that they demand the ACTA negotiations be opened up to public scrutiny.

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