The Internet has seen a rapid growth in information-flow over the last decade. Search, location based services and online knowledge bases have worked collectively towards creating a knowledgeable global society, which is well connected through this wonderful communication medium. The Internet is the largest network in the world, and the best thing about the Internet is that it has no formal owner or operating boundaries. For this reason, it has always attracted censorship laws that regulate the content flowing through it. This censorship gives legal control, and in a way, would give ownership to the regulating authority!
Over the last few months, SOPA and PIPA have been trying to take control of the Internet. Although they were finally averted with mass protests, it must be noted that SOPA and PIPA were not the only bills threatening the Internet and its user-generated content.
What is ACTA?
If SOPA was a speck of dust, ACTA is the real sandstorm here. ACTA stands for Anti-counterfeiting Trade Agreement and covers many other verticals, beside online content. Although the European Commission has some assurances and good-looking points for ACTA up on its website, it will definitely create upheaval in the free-speech world.
Wikipedia defines ACTA as,
The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is a proposed plurilateral agreement for the purpose of establishing international standards on intellectual property rights enforcement. It would establish an international legal framework for countries to join voluntarily, and would create a governing body outside international institutions such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) or the United Nations. Negotiating countries have described it as a response “to the increase in global trade of counterfeit goods and pirated copyright protected works.” The scope of ACTA includes counterfeit goods, generic medicines and copyright infringement on the Internet.
While confirming that ACTA is not a censorship bill like SOPA, the European Union (EU) has also outlined why it is supporting ACTA.
Because ACTA ensures the EU’s already high standard of protection for intellectual property goes global - protecting jobs in Europe. Because Europe is losing €8 billion annually through counterfeit goods flooding our market.
The EU has conducted a research according to which, international trade of counterfeit goods has seen a growth higher than the GDP of over 150 countries, between 2000 and 2007.
Where does ACTA stand currently?
ACTA has gathered the interest of Australia, Canada, the European Union, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland and the United States. All of these countries except the European Union, Switzerland and Mexico had signed the ACTA agreement by December 2011. The EU signed ACTA recently on 26 January, this year.
ACTA has provisions for criminal enforcement of its laws, and the decision of implementing ACTA is still on hold with the European Parliament, where the act will be discussed and a formal conclusion of consent will mark the finalization of the agreement.
The final text of ACTA is available at this [direct link to PDF file] link.
How will it affect us?
ACTA is part of a global economic power play. Until now, developed countries have established businesses around selling IP to developing nations, who would in turn buy them. However, this trend was dying out as developing nations resisted and sometimes work progressed in spite of violation of intellectual property laws. This called for a global implementation of Intellectual Property and hence, ACTA.
Andy Oram writes at O’Reilly Media, saying:
I am totally in favor of rewarding inventors, including large established firms, for the time, effort, and expertise they have put into their inventions. But as always, in IP, rewards for past work must be balanced against the promotion of further development. And right now, the world is moving more and more to crowdsourcing. The best ideas will increasingly come from people around the world pooling their ideas–including people with few resources and no connections to major institutions. Those institutions had better learn this lesson before they succeed in choking off inventions that make a life-or-death difference to people in developing countries.
Why should you be worried?
A few big corporations and developed countries alone handle ACTA. It includes only one-fifth of the world governments.
Together, these governments and organizations will take decisions behind closed doors and enforce them as part of this act. There is no indication of an open judgment. The proceedings of any decision will not be open and this creates a huge risk for net neutrality. We all know that net-neutrality is a key factor for a balanced economic growth and after recent events, political stability as well. In short, ACTA can be used as a weapon to decide the face of a developing economy or organization.
Only A few developed countries that too one-fifth of them, should not be allowed to decide for the entire world. This will kill innovation, which is key for the well being of our society.
What should you do?
By now, you must have decided whether to support or oppose ACTA. If you oppose ACTA, which you should, sign the petition mentioned on this page. A total of 646,680 concerned people have already signed it at the time of writing this post, and the number is on a constant rise.
The discussions at the European Parliament this summer, will decide the fate of this draconian bill. In the meanwhile, do not forget to read EFF’s take on ACTA.