Again, it's one of the few bastions of anti-corruption, Wikileaks, that has spilled the beans on this unsavory topic. On May 23, the site revealed a
document proposing a treaty that will significantly limit the privacy and
rights of Internet users, to the benefit of multimillion dollar companies.
"ACTA" is basically an attempt to criminalize the
Internet, thus allowing a virtual police state to occur by the selective
prosecuting of crimes. In short, it's an international treaty, or hopes to be,
that will greatly increase already draconian copyright measures, in a poor
attempt to appease the copyright and patent industries.
The proposal is based on the assumption that 'intellectual
property rights' (a term used nine times on the first page of the proposal, and
24 times over the entire three-and-a-half page document) trump
personal privacy, data protection, probable cause, and lots of other important
principles in western democracies.
The measure which has received wider
publicity is the so-called 'Pirate Bay killer'. At the end of page two,
there is a list of things that should be included in a signee's legal
framework, and in the section about criminal sanctions it states
"significant willful infringements without motivation for financial gain
to such an extent as to prejudicially affect the copyright holder (e.g.,
Internet piracy)". Think non-profit, personal use file-sharing.
Of course, this could go two ways, as the MPAA, for
instance, has been guilty of 'Internet piracy' in the past, with its
The other area most affected by this would be whistle-blower sites like Wikileaks. The owner of any leaked document can claim copyright infringement on
its publication, and have it pulled. In this, ACTA is a very effective censorship tool.
Worst of all though, are the following two points speaking
of "establishment and imposition of deterrent-level penalties" and
"ex-officio authority to take action against infringers". It is
argued that the current level of penalties aren't harsh enough ("people are still doing it, so they're no deterrent"),
so there should be room for harsher punishments. Combine this with the ability
to prosecute without a rights holder complaint, which means that people could
be liable for millions, or imprisoned (they are talking about CRIMINAL enforcement)
for sharing Steal this Film, or Paulo Coelho's books. So, these people who actively
want you to share would have no say in any such prosecution.
There are some other pure gems proposed, such as "ex
officio authority for customs authorities to suspend import, export and
trans-shipment of suspected IPR infringing goods". Given that copyright
law is so complex and convoluted, and that judges make mistakes in the cases
they hear, this is worrying.
Unsurprisingly, the US patent office is backed up beyond
belief and dominated by patent trolls that wait until a successful business is
established, before pouncing to clean up. This would mean the death for any new
and innovative products, or art. If that wasn't bad enough, there is a further
provision for rights holders to prod customs officials into suspension. Thus, a
company can make an allegation, forcing a competitors
products to be held in limbo until sorted.
Protest has been swift. TorrentFreak occasional contributor Jamie King wrote on his own blog:
"In the form that it currently appears to exist, ACTA would ratchet-up
further the rights of Hollywood and Recording Industry Association of America
(RIAA) at the expense of all of our civil liberties. It provisions to
criminalize information use practices currently allowed under U.S., European, and international law are completely
disproportionate to the 'problems' it claims to address."
Andrew Norton, chairman of the American Pirate Party was
much less restrained: "The very existence of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade
Agreement (ACTA) - be it in policy or just planning, sends one definite message
to people around the world; Corruption is rife in the interested countries.
There can be no other reason for yet another 'intellectual property' (itself a
misnomer) law aimed at protecting business interests and expanding government
intrusion into the private affairs of it's citizens,
in the name of 'protection'."
Of course, the other area most affected by this would be whistle-blower sites like Wikileaks itself. The owner of any leaked document can claim copyright infringement on
its publication, and have it pulled. In this, ACTA is a very effective censorship tool. For some reason, though, this aspect has not
been widely reported, or even mentioned.
Note: Blogger Ben Jones' interests are robotics, RC cars, Science Fiction, Radio Astronomy and implementations of certain technologies, including BitTorrent. Visit Ben Jones' website at http://neuron2neuron.blogspot.com where he tries to spread the "underlying truth about P2P on both sides of the argument."
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