Details Of iPod-Scanning Law Published

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ACTA won’t allow devices to be searched or push the concept of a three strikes rule for file-sharers, according to its backers

Ongoing international legislation on intellectual property protection that was once rumoured to contain a clause that would have allowed customs staff to scan travellers’ iPods and laptops has finally been made public.

A draft version of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), denying the move to allow scanning of laptops and MP3 players, was released on Wednesday. The publication follows criticism from freedom campaigners that the negotiations on the legislation were happening in secret.

The European Commission welcomed the publication of the draft agreement, which follows the latest round of negotiations in Wellington. EU trade minister Karel De Gucht said that the publication would show the true nature of the agreement, which was not to harass consumers.

“I am very glad that the EU convinced its partners to release the negotiation text“, said De Gucht. “The text makes clear what ACTA is really about: it will provide our industry and creators with better protection in overseas markets which is essential for business to thrive. It will not have a negative impact on European citizens.

No time for iPod scanning

The fair and measured image of ACTA painted by the EC, however, is at odds with concerns from privacy campaigners. At one time it was rumoured that the proposed agreement would allow laptops and MP3 players to be scanned by customs staff for illegal content. But this has been vehemently denied by ACTA’s backers.

“ACTA is about tackling activities pursued by criminal organisations, which frequently pose a threat to public health and safety. It is not about limiting civil liberties or harassing consumers,” a statement from the stakeholders involved in ACTA claims. “EU customs, frequently confronted with traffics of drugs, weapons or people, do not have the time or the legal basis to look for a couple of pirated songs on an iPod music player or laptop computer.”

There has also been concern among privacy campaigners that ACTA would back the Internet cut-off measures included in the UK’s Digital Economy Act which recently passed into law. The ACTA rules, as they stand, do not specify the idea of cutting off Internet users after repeated copyright infringements according to the EU. “No party in the ACTA negotiation is proposing that governments should introduce a compulsory ‘3 strikes’ or ‘gradual response’ rule to fight copyright infringements and internet piracy,” the EC stated this week.

No Choice But To File-Share

The publication of the draft ACTA agreement follows criticism from the European Commission earlier this week that barriers to a single digital market in Europe were contributing to illegal file-sharing. Speaking this week in a video conference with EU Telecoms and Information Society Ministers, European Commission vice-president for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes said that the failure of governments and content producers to agree on common standards and platforms across Europe was directly contributing to illegal file-sharing.

“One result is that the US market for online music is five times bigger than Europe’s,” she said. “Another result is that for the moment one could almost say that the only existing Digital Single Market for audiovisual material is the illegal one.”

According to a statement from the countries involved – Australia, Canada, the European Union, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland and the United States – there is still no time-frame for when the agreement may come into force. “A time-frame for the conclusion of ACTA has not been determined,” the backers stated. “Timing will not take precedence over the quality and balance of the final agreement.”

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