After several years of negotiation, the United States will formally sign the Anticounterfeiting Trade Agreement in Japan on Saturday, a boost to international cooperation in the fight to curb counterfeiting and piracy at borders and in the digital world.
Groups that represent musicians, movie studios, and other copyright holders praised the agreement as an important step forward. However, they are still pushing Congress to pass unrelated legislation that would give them and law enforcement more tools to go after foreign websites that offer pirated movies, music, and other content and counterfeit products.
“We salute the various ACTA negotiators for having the will and vision to come to an agreement on a set of enforcement principles [that] underscore the importance of enhancing the fight against piracy and counterfeiting globally,” Recording Industry Association of America Executive Vice President Neil Turkewitz said in a statement on Thursday. “Policymakers around the globe have increasingly come to recognize the damaging impact of piracy on cultural and economic development, and ACTA represents a step in the evolution toward a global response to the problem.”
Public-interest and some tech groups from the United States and elsewhere say that the ACTA negotiating process is too secretive. They also voiced concerns with efforts by some countries to include language requiring countries to cut off the Internet access of those who repeatedly infringe copyrights. Although language specifically mandating such action was not included in the final draft, ACTA does leave open the door for countries to do it on their own. Some U.S. groups also worried that ACTA could force changes to U.S. law, an assertion that the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative has consistently denied.
Some groups remain unhappy that the U.S. Senate will not review and ratified the agreement. The Obama administration has maintained it is not a treaty; instead, the White House describes it as an “executive agreement,” which does not require Senate ratification because it does not change U.S. law.
“Although the final version of the agreement was an improvement from earlier versions, we continue to believe that the process by which it was reached was extremely flawed. ACTA should have been considered a treaty, and subject to public Senate debate and ratification or, in the alternative, debated in an open and transparent international forum such as the World Intellectual Property Organization,” Public Knowledge President Gigi Sohn said in a statement earlier this week. “Instead, public interest groups and the tech industry had to expend enormous resources to force the process open to permit public views to be presented and considered.”
The agreement requires only six of the 37 countries that negotiated ACTA to sign it to go into force. Still, some observers say it is not a given that supporters will clear even this low bar.
“The [European Union] represents 27 of the 37 parties to the ACTA negotiation, and it appears doubtful that any of them will join ACTA any time soon,” ACTA critic Sean Flynn, the associate director of American University’s Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property, wrote in a blog post on Thursday.
This article appears in the September 30, 2011 edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.