24 December 2009

ACTA as the (Fool's) "Gold Standard"

I've noted before that at the heart of the ACTA negotiations there is a con-trick being played upon the world: insofar as the mighty ones deign to pass down any crumbs of information to us little people, it is framed in terms of the dangers of counterfeit medicines and the like, and how we are being "protected". But, then, strangely, those counterfeit medicines morph into digital copies of songs - where there is obviously no danger whatsoever - but the same extreme measures are called for.

Unfortunately, the European Union has now joined in the parroting this lie, and is now pushing even harder for ACTA to be implemented:

The European Union appears to be preparing for adoption of the “gold standard” of enforcement, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), as intellectual property law expert Annette Kur from the Max Planck Institute of Intellectual Property, Competition and Tax Law said it is now called.

At a conference of the Swedish EU Presidency on “Enforcement of Intellectual Property with a Special Focus on Trademarks and Patents” on 15-16 December in Stockholm, representatives from EU bodies, member states and industry supported a quick enforcement of ACTA, according to participants. A representative of the Justice, Freedom and Security Directorate General of the European Commission, presented a plan for a quick restart of a legislative process in the EU to harmonise criminal law sanctions in the Community.


Only two members of Parliament attended the conference in Stockholm, which despite its high-level panels was not much publicised by the Swedish presidency. Not even an agenda had been published beforehand

That is, the inner circle of the EU, represented by the EU Presidency, was clearly trying to minimise scrutiny by the European Parliament, which has historically taken a more balanced view of intellectual monopolies and their enforcement. That matters, because:

Under the Lisbon Treaty, the European Parliament would be kept informed of the negotiation process in a manner similar to the Council, a Commission expert said. Furthermore, the ACTA text would be approved both by the Parliament and the Council.

In other words, the European Parliament now has powers that allow it to block things like ACTA, should it so desire. That's obviously a problem for those European politicians used to getting their way without such tiresome democratic obstacles.

Despite this shameful attempt to keep everything behind closed doors, the presentations show that even among those with access to the inner circle there are doubts about ACTA's "gold standard". Here's what the academic Annette Kur said in her presentation [.pdf]:

Using the public concern about serious crimes like fabrication of fake and noxious medicaments as an argument pushing for stronger legislation on IP infringement in general is inappropriate and dangerous

It is dangerous because it obscures the fact that to combat risks for public health is not primarily an IP issue

It is inappropriate because it will typically tend to encourage imbalanced legislation

Similarly Kostas Rossoglou from BEUC, the European Consumers’ Organisation, was deeply worried by the following aspects [.pdf]:

Counterfeiting used as a general term to describe all IPR Infringements and beyond!!!

Broad scope of IPRED Directive – all IPR infringements are presumed to be equally serious!!!

No distinction between commercial piracy and unauthorised use of copyright-protected content by individuals

No clear definition of the notion of “commercial scale”

Things are moving fast on the ACTA front in Europe, with a clear attempt to steamroller this through without scrutiny. This makes it even more vital that we call out those European politicians who try to justify their actions by equating counterfeiting and copyright infringement, and that we continue to demand a more reasoned and balanced approach that takes into account end-users as well as the holders of intellectual monopolies.

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Unknown said...

Yes, the Steamroller is moving. Thanks for keeping an eye on it Glyn, your writing is very much appreciated on this side of the pond.

Glyn Moody said...

Thanks - I'll do my best...

Anonymous said...

A spoonful of syrup of figs may do the trick. p