Written by Elaine Zuo
Say you’re the owner of a thriving website that you’ve been working years to maintain. Your homepage displays a short video clip from a movie that you thought added punchy dialogue to your site’s message. Upon the passage of ACTA, your domain is completely taken down due to copyright infringement and your Internet connection is terminated. How could anyone allow this to happen?
The entire United States seemed to take up arms when the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), a bill that would strongly enforce copyright laws and restrict access to entire Internet domains, entered Congress in December 2011. After a widespread “blackout” on January 18 of many popular websites, SOPA sponsors readily withdrew their support and the bill is now all but dead. What many Americans didn’t know was that President Obama had signed the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) a few months prior, on October 1, 2011.
ACTA is an international treaty aiming to stop copyright infringement and other forms of intellectual property theft through a legal framework that would promote cooperation among involved countries.
Many Europeans and increasing numbers of Americans are upset with this treaty for a variety of reasons, notably the process in which the treaty itself was signed. Neither the citizens of the signing countries were consulted nor was the entirety of the European Parliament involved with the negotiations, those of which were found to be conducted mostly in secret. Twenty-two out of 27 members of the European Union signed the agreement in Tokyo on January 26. This was met with marching in the streets of Poland, a French member of the European Parliament quitting, and the Polish parliament protesting with Guy Fawkes masks. Obama is under fire for signing the treaty without consulting the Senate.
Under the provisions of ACTA, copyright holders would be able to obtain personal information about people suspected of copyright infringement, take their property, and legally be allowed to pursue said suspects. The holders also can demand the market value of the “stolen” content. ACTA does not include any fair use provisions, unlike current U.S. copyright law or the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and its status as an international treaty will supersede the laws of the U.S.
ACTA is not limited to the Internet and items such as generic drugs and food patents would become more difficult to obtain. Flying into different countries could criminalize someone if the drugs were still under patent in the specific country. Fortunately, quite a few emerging countries are opposed to such provisions. ACTA raises significant concerns for the freedom and privacy of citizens around the world and is rising quickly from the ashes of SOPA. Fight for your Internet freedom and speak out against ACTA.