ACTA Signing Sparks Renewed Protests

The European Union (EU) and 22 Member States (MS) signed the agreement for the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) on January 26,  marking the second to the last step before possible EU ratification this June. The ACTA is a plurilateral agreement between member nations for the establishment of international standards for intellectual property (IP) rights enforcement. This treaty resolves to lay down the legal framework against counterfeit goods, generic medicines and copyright infringement on the Internet. On signing the treaty, Mr. Hans Dietmar Schweisgut spoke on behalf of the EU.

ACTA … aims to improve enforcement mechanisms to help its members combat IPR infringement more effectively. This is an objective that the EU and its MS share with its trade partners.

Internet activists protest against the international copyright agreement ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, in front of the European Parliament office in Warsaw, Poland, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012. The Polish government plans to sign the agreement and Poland's support for ACTA has sparked days of protest, including attacks on government sites, by groups who fear it could lead to online censorship. (AP)

Dissension and Backlash

Critics cite the secrecy surrounding the negotiations and discussions, the potential crackdown on generic medicines, the threat to freedom of expression and creativity on the Internet, as well as the possible intrusions to privacy. Some sectors point to parallels between the recently aborted SOPA and PIPA, as well as with the up and coming TPP.

After Poland announced its intentions to sign the treaty on January 18, a number of Polish government websites were shut down by denial of service attacks that started January 21. Despite the protests and DoS attacks, Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s government signed the agreement in Tokyo on January 26.

Kader Arif — ACTA European rapporteur, resigned in disgust over what he felt was a railroading of the treaty.

I want to denounce in the strongest possible manner the entire process that led to the signature of this agreement: no inclusion of civil society organisations, a lack of transparency from the start of the negotiations, repeated postponing of the signature of the text without an explanation being ever given, exclusion of the EU Parliament’s demands that were expressed on several occasions in our assembly.

As rapporteur of this text, I have faced never-before-seen manoeuvres from the right wing of this Parliament to impose a rushed calendar before public opinion could be alerted, thus depriving the Parliament of its right to expression and of the tools at its disposal to convey citizens’ legitimate demands.”

Everyone knows the ACTA agreement is problematic, whether it is its impact on civil liberties, the way it makes Internet access providers liable, its consequences on generic drugs manufacturing, or how little protection it gives to our geographical indications.

This agreement might have major consequences on citizens’ lives, and still, everything is being done to prevent the European Parliament from having its say in this matter. That is why today, as I release this report for which I was in charge, I want to send a strong signal and alert the public opinion about this unacceptable situation. I will not take part in this masquerade.

ACTA has come under fire in the past. In June 2010, over 90 academics, practitioners and public interest organizations from six continents issued a communique.

We find that the terms of the publicly released draft of ACTA threaten numerous public interests, including every concern specifically disclaimed by negotiators.

  • Negotiators claim ACTA will not interfere with citizens’ fundamental rights and liberties; it will.
  • They claim ACTA is consistent with the WTO Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS); it is not.
  • They claim ACTA will not increase border searches or interfere with cross-border transit of legitimate generic medicines; it will.
  • And they claim that ACTA does not require “graduated response” disconnections of people from the internet; however, the agreement strongly encourages such policies.
In October 2010, a group of law professors signed a letter to US President Obama asking him to scrap ACTA.
(W)e write to express our grave concern that your Administration is negotiating a far-reaching international intellectual property agreement behind a shroud of secrecy, with little opportunity for public input, and with active participation by special interests who stand to gain from restrictive new international rules that may harm the public interest.

The US joined Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore and South Korea in signing the treaty on October 1, 2011.

It seems the ratification of the ACTA is inevitable, despite letters of protest, DoS attacks, mass action and a public official’s resignation. Perhaps the only consolation one can take from this is the perception that the ACTA is a diluted version of its former self — much tamer than the TPP.