Release of ACTA Text Unlikely To Quell Controversy

After coming under pressure by public interest groups and some lawmakers, the negotiating parties involved in a proposed trade agreement aimed at curbing global counterfeiting and the piracy of intellectual property released a public text of the proposal Wednesday.

The release of the draft Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement does address calls by some U.S. and European lawmakers for greater transparency in the negotiating process but is unlikely to quiet the controversy surrounding the measure.

The European Commission, which was urged to push for release of the ACTA draft by an overwhelming European Parliament vote, said the public release of the document will hopefully dispel rumors that the proposal would “lead to a limitation of civil liberties or to ‘harassment’ of consumers.” The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative gave similar assurances last week following the most recent round of ACTA talks in New Zealand.

“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,” European Union Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said in a statement. “It will not have a negative impact on European citizens.”

Mark Esper, executive director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Intellectual Property Center, also said the release of the latest ACTA draft “will show that many of the claims made by ACTA critics and anti-IP activists to stop this agreement were false. ACTA promises to improve cooperation and enhance the collective efforts of nearly 40 countries against the growing scourge of counterfeiting and piracy–in both the online and physical environments–that is killing jobs, stunting our economic recovery, and harming consumers.”

Sean Flynn, associate director of the Information Justice and Intellectual Property Program at American University’s Washington College of Law, argued that many of “most controversial provisions remain in ACTA.” He noted in an e-mail response that the text does not compel Internet service providers to adopt so called “three-strikes” or graduated response systems that could lead them to cut off Internet access for serial copyright infringers. However, he added that “bracketed text suggests making such a program optional,” by noting that the agreement “shall not effect the possibility” of countries implementing such graduated response systems.

While pleased that a public draft has finally been made available, some public interest groups also voiced concern with some of the measures proposed provisions.

Knowledge Ecology International Director Jamie Love noted in a blog post that the text does not include the country positions. “Clearly the text goes way beyond counterfeiting and copyright piracy, into several categories of intellectual property rights,” Love said. He added that “governments should engage with consumer groups, civil rights organizations, educators, libraries, generic drug manufacturers, technology companies and others to re-balance the text, or abandon the negotiation if this is not possible in the current political environment.”

And Public Knowledge President Gigi Sohn said in a statement her group remains “concerned that this proposal lacks the balance that we find in U.S. copyright law, while attempting to export a regulatory regime that favors big media companies at the expense of consumers and innovators.”

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