The chilling effect of global copyright enforcement

And on to the EU’s attempt to implement strong copyright enforcement. I’ll return to the UK in the next week or so, but the European Commission signed the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) a couple of days ago. This proposed trade treaty has been negotiated in secret amongst a group of governments from the developed world. The US agenda was to strengthen international enforcement of intellectual property laws, and the original European agenda was similar, but orientated more around the protection of a number of geographic brands, such as champagne or cheddar. The Open Rights Group talks, on their blog, about the secrecy and how we have came to this point.

La Quadrature Du Net, a french based digital liberty campaign, argue in their blog posting, that ACTA will have a chilling effect on ISP and Search providers forcing them to police their users and inhibit their business. LQDN say,

“By putting legal and monetary pressure on Internet service providers (in a most subtler way than in previous versions of the text), ACTA will give the music and movie industries a weapon to force them to police their networks and users themselves. Such a private police and justice of the Net is incompatible with democratic imperatives and represent a real threat for fundamental freedoms.”

It also proposes increasing criminal sanctions for commercial scale infringement. This is definitely not the same as commercial activity and it also reinserts the criminalisation on aiding and abetting which industrial content have been trying to criminalise for the last five years, and seems to weaken all the national copyright exclusions. The treaty has self maintenance clauses, which have no citizenship accountability. It’s been negotiated and written by bureaucrats and lobbyists and having got (some of) the law they want they don’t want any pesky elected politicians looking to change and update it; they see that as their prerogative.

La Quadrature Du Net have published a call to arms for Europe’s citizens to campaign to have the treaty rejected  by the European Parliament. (They also have a campaign Wiki here.)

To further understand what’s happening, check out this article, entitled “Why the EU will repent ACTA at their leisure” published on a blog called Br0ken Teleph0n3, which was pointed out to me by Glyn Moody. In it, the author, Ian Grant, makes some startling predictions illustrating the weakness of the treaty for Europe’s citizens.

  • There has been no parliamentary scrutiny to determine if the treaty conflicts with the current state of European law. No-one knows if it conflicts or not. (See my, or others, review of the last UK judgement determining if strong copyright enforcement conflicted with EU law or not, it shows there’s a lot of law to contradict.)
  • The European Parliament’s technical assessment recommends postponing the signing of ACTA, that there is little benefit to the EU’s citizens. The rejection of this recommendation has led to the resignation of the EU Parliament’s Rapporteur. Interestingly, five EU member states have opted out of the signing process. (How’s that work?) For the record, they’re Germany, the Netherlands, Estonia, Cyprus and Slovakia.
  • It seems doubtful that the US Senate will be asked to, or consent to ratification.
  • India, China and Brazil have not been asked to, and are unlikely to agree to the treaty.
  • As discussed above, the penalties for copyright infringement are likely to be increased. There is no embedding of copyright exclusions, for research, education or personal use in the treaty.

We seem to be on the path to agree a treaty in the economic interests of US entertainment and industrial software companies, where Europe’s competitors will not, and we give up many fundamental freedoms for the privildge.

I shall be writing to my MEPs this evening. I suggest you look at some of these links and think about this as well.

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