US Drafts A Hard ACTA To Follow

The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is just another way to satisfy the US corporate overlords now SOPA is gone, argues Eric Doyle

There is a three-way struggle going on over the policing of the Internet. The US government, pressurised by the powerful corporates, is pressurising the rest of the world into adopting its view of the “legal Internet”.

This takes the form of creating trade agreements that set up conditions which insist on foreign trading-partner nations adopting US-like attitudes towards the control of counterfeit goods, file-sharing and many other things the star-spangled banners deem as acceptable behaviour.

Just so much soft SOPA

Despite the failure of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is proving to be a stealthy way of sneaking legislation through on an international scale. If a test case were needed of this bullying tactic, the recent pressure placed on Spain would be a good example.

Aspects of ACTA would effectively constrict Internet freedoms and place the US in the driving seat regarding what can, and what can’t, be posted up there.

It is these restrictions that are lighting fires across Europe because it pushes in the opposite direction to current European Commission thinking.

It is also worrying the average citizen as demonstrators throughout Europe took to the streets at the weekend, shouting down their governments’ intentions of ratifying the terms of the US-initiated agreement and establishing them as law. Under ACTA, tighter controls are not only requested but are mandatory if a trade embargo with the US, and other ACTA signatories, is to be avoided. Such an embargo would be impossible between EU countries where free trade is written into the constitution.

In January, the EC signed the ACTA agreement in principle but it will not be enforced until it has been discussed by the European parliament in June, if it gets that far. Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic have suspended their ratification processes, a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) appointed to scrutinise the treaty has resigned in disgust, and other countries are now backing away from their previously-voiced support.

Hard to swallow

Even in the US it is proving controversial. President Obama signed the agreement without Senate backing and now the details of the proposed treaty are being questioned.

The issue of counterfeiting should not be included in a trade agreement. It is up to the countries concerned to create their own laws and not be tied to the, frankly, idiotic patenting system of the US. I could argue that patent infringement fines will probably gross a larger part of some companies’ businesses than actually manufacturing and marketing products.

What is worse, the US malaise is hitting other countries already. It is time to take stock of the Internet security implications. It is also time to revisit the patent laws with a fresh approach.

It is true that genius should be rewarded but the vagueness of what patents cover is strangling real innovation. Hardly any invention can be produced today without some troll trying to get a cut of the action.

Inhibiting innovation

So what if one tablet resembles another? I can’t see much difference between the look of one PC or laptop and another – yet there is room for competition which brings the longed-for differentiation and innovation.

Many of the smartphone and tablet cases in court today boil down to nothing more than, ultimately futile, protectionism.

Using the same arguments where file-sharing is concerned, I would argue that if I have already paid for a recording in the past, the actors have all been paid their dues. If I buy it again because it is available in a different format, why should I pay everyone again? If the various intellectual property rights (IPR)owners had dealt fairly in the past, the illicit Internet market would be nowhere near as large as it is now.

The security of IPR would not be so hard to argue if the authorities would just back off, take a long hard look at IPR in a modern context and rewrite their laws accordingly – and not allow someone else to write the laws for them.