We published an article earlier today on the status of ACTA, being signed by 22 European countries in Tokyo. This in itself is a clear signal of how the process has been wanted to put forward, quietly and in secrecy. Even though this is a global treaty that countries join voluntarily, would it not have made sense to sign it in Europe? Probably not. That would have caught the medias’ attention resulting in public debate.

SOPA received a lot of publicity in the US in the last couple of months. The publicity is all deserved. It’s a flawed law that should not pass. The upside of this is that the legislation was analysed in detail and it sparked a lot of public debate.

This is completely the opposite how ACTA is put through. In December we covered ACTA in a post where the EU Council adopted ACTA in a meeting for Fisheries and Agriculture, even though it clearly didn’t belong there.

Even today, very few parties have received the agreement and what it would require governments to do. A version of the agreement was released in April 2010 after numerous leaks and demands from consumer rights activists around the world.

Not only has the preparation of the agreement been done in as much secrecy as possible, the way it has been constructed would entitle the agreement to continue develop in secrecy. Why?

The treaty calls for the creation of an ACTA committee to make amendments to it for which public or judicial review are not required. Who would sign themselves into an agreement that would allow a third party to make changes to it at will? Nobody. Nevertheless numerous EU countries signed the treaty and look forward to ratify it in European Parliament.

Just yesterday Kader Arif, the European rapporteur for ACTA, resigned from his position saying, “I want to send a strong signal and alert the public opinion about this unacceptable situation. I will not take part in this masquerade.”

Because of the fact that the latest treaty has not been made available, it is basically impossible to understand what kind of changes have been made since April 2010. And since the “ACTA committee” can make amendments to it without public or judicial acceptance – we would never know what kind of a monster it could evolve into.

While the intention is good, to cut down on counterfeiting and outright piracy, the end result couldn’t be further away. The treaty can very easily be used to limit competition in otherwise freemarket economies.

EFF, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, has released a study already a few years ago stating that even the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) has been used in many cases to limit competition in favor of the rights holders.

How are we ever going to see innovation and better solutions in the market if the current oligopolies are willing to fight for their existence in the form of global treaties that can be used for pretty much anything when the public and judicial systems are kept out?

The truth is, we aren’t.

ps. You can sign a petition to all MPs of EU Parliament at Avaaz if you oppose ACTA. When I signed it yesterday, there were 35 000 signatures, less than 24 hours later that has grown to over 450 000.

Sources for the article: Wikipedia on ACTA and relevant links in the article itself.

Image by Shavar Ross