ACTA: SOPA and PIPA for the World
By Winnie Liang, Grade 12
How much do you know about ACTA? It wouldn’t come as any surprise if you never heard of ACTA before, because the lack of transparency since the beginning of its negotiations prevented it from garnering public attention. In fact, the majority of the world’s population weren’t aware of its existence . . . until now.
You may have used some of your favourite music and photos to put together a trailer video for a school project before. Unfortunately, there‘s a chance you may not be able to do this again, as the rigorous enforcement of ACTA makes it an illegal act of copyright infringement. So, what exactly is ACTA?
ACTA is by no means simply an international agreement that allows a college student to be fined $675,000 for downloading 30 songs. In the wake of the U.S. Congressional decision to shelf the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) has gained international prominence as a viable alternative to the highly controversial Internet censorship bills. It was first announced in late 2007, when virtually all of the world’s developed countries—the United States, the European Union, Switzerland, and Japan—banded together to combat counterfeiting and piracy in not only the physical but also the digital world.
In October 2011, ACTA was signed in Tokyo by eight countries, including the U.S., Australia, Korea, Japan, New Zealand, Morocco, Singapore, and (surprise, surprise) Canada. Then, on January 26, 2012, regardless of the fact that the European Union had withheld its pen for months, 22 of its 27 member states finally signed off on the treaty. Immediately after that, about 20,000 Polish demonstrators took part in a protest against their government’s decision to sign this controversial copyright treaty.
The Office of the United States Trade Representative is right to boast ACTA as “the highest-standard plurilateral agreement ever achieved concerning the enforcement of intellectual property rights.” Critics believe that ACTA, with provisions much more expansive than the ones seen in SOPA and PIPA, would allow governments and corporations to censor the Internet more severely than ever. If strictly enforced, this global treaty could limit online freedom of speech, deeming the sharing of a newspaper article illegal and therefore punishable by law.
However, ACTA is recognized by the EU as a binding international agreement. This requires it to undergo a ratification process by the European Parliament, whose rapporteur Kader Arif has resigned on January 27. As reported by Dave Lee from BBC News, he “had witnessed ‘never-before-seen manoeuvres’ by officials preparing the treaty.” Arif’s decision to resign in protest against ACTA has brought hope to the activists who are urging European parliamentarians to reject it.
“The European Parliament has the decisive voice on ACTA,” said Marietje Schaake, a member of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe in the EP. The first public “exchange of views” among key committee members will take place on either February 29th or March 1st, while a full parliament vote is not expected to occur until June.
It seems like it will be a while before the final decision is made, but those who strongly oppose the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement are already striving to raise awareness and solicit support. After all, just as the United States can threaten the Spanish government into implementing the SOPA-like Sinde Law, it can also employ the same tactics against other countries.
Right now, the fight against ACTA has already seen some success. For one, Poland has been the country that has been seeing major opposition to the agreement. Nationwide protests reached such great heights that Prime Minister Donald Tusk announced a halt of the ACTA ratification on Friday, February 3. This example was followed by the Czech Republic, whose prime minister, Petr Necas, announced the suspension of the ratification process on Monday. Slovakia made the same move on the exact day, despite being one of the countries not present at the signing ceremony. By doing so, Slovakia made it the third EU country to put the brakes on ACTA.
Riding the tides of international anger, ACTA opposition has issued a worldwide call to protest, as the anti-ACTA Day of Action has been set for February 11. Already, countless cities have signed up to be part of this unprecedented show of solidarity against Internet censorship.(For more information, please see the ACTA Action Center: https://www.accessnow.org/policy-activism/press-blog/acta-protest-feb-11)
(n.d.). Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. Retrieved from Electronic Frontier Foundation website: https://www.eff.org/issues/acta
Rangnath, R. (2011, October 3). What We Won In ACTA [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.publicknowledge.org/blog/what-we-won-acta
(n.d.). Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). Retrieved from Office of the United States Trade Representative website: http://www.ustr.gov/acta
Flynn, S. (2012, January 26). EU Signs ACTA, But Treaty Remains in Doubt. infojustice.org. Retrieved from http://infojustice.org/archives/7508
Lee, D. (2012, January 27). European Parliament rapporteur quits in Acta protest. BBC News. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-16757142