Frequently Asked Questions on ACTA

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Q: What is wrong with a treaty against counterfeiting?

It isn't really a treaty against counterfeiting. It uses that name, but in fact the most problematic aspects of the agreement under negotiation have nothing to do with counterfeit goods. Rather, they are designed to crack down on the transfer of digital information, making it easier for intermediaries (such as customs officers, ISPs, and copyright owners) to snoop on consumers exchanging such information, and imposing new criminal penalties in case they have breached someone's copyright by doing so.

Q: What's wrong with increasing penalties against IP infringers?

Because the provisions go too far. They would allow a practice that already exists in some countries called "three strikes" or "graduated response", which means kicking users off the Internet if they are alleged to have been sharing copyright files. This response is wholly disproportionate to the alleged offence, as it means that user is also cut off from their social networks, their government, their banking, their family... it is, in short, a gross infringement of their human right to communicate.

Similarly, provisions that would allow customs officers to go rooting through a traveller's laptop computer of MP3 player looking for copyright-infringing files, or would allow ISPs to disclose their users' information to copyright owners without need of a warrant, infringe consumers' human right to privacy. And these are just the tip of the iceberg.

Q: But aren't the negotiators taking consumers' interests into account?

In a word, no. The negotiations take place in closed rooms, and the texts under negotiation are kept private. If they had been willing to discuss the draft treaty openly with consumer groups and broader civil society, they would have negotiated it within WIPO rather than inventing a new, opaque process to avoid public scrutiny.

What little we know of the content of the treaty has either been leaked, or has come from a few very terse briefing papers prepared by some of the friendlier negotiating countries. Even a Freedom of Information request in the United States was denied on the ground that the negotiations were a matter of national security! In contrast, while consumer groups (and even the European Parliament) have been left in the dark, privileged industry insiders have been briefed on the negotiations by the United States government.

Q: ACTA would only apply to those who sign it, so what's the problem?

The problem is that once the most powerful developed countries, such as the US, EU and Japan, do sign ACTA, they can force its provisions onto smaller developing countries by using it as a bargaining chip in exchange for trade concessions on agricultural goods. This has been a notorious tactic, particularly of the US and EU, who have forced poorer countries to sign Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) including onerous new copyright and patent provisions that exceed TRIPS minima.

Q: Who can I contact for more information?

In English: Jeremy Malcolm

En français: Anthony Hémond

En español: Maite Cortés

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