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Meddling Mandelson faces furore from MPs

The secrecy surrounding the ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) talks is causing fury amongst MPs across political parties. The Government (Lord Mandelson and David Lammy) has refused to place the documents regarding the ACTA talks in the House of Commons Library because of other countries requests for secrecy, much to the annoyance of the UK MPs.

Darren Farnden, Head of Marketing

Darren Farnden, Head of Marketing

This is particularly important because whilst Mandelson and Lammy are involved in the secret ACTA talks they are also negotiating the Digital Economy Bill’s entry into UK law. If the leaked details of the ACTA talks are to be believed these new agreements will have a significant impact on the DEB which is already causing large amounts of controversy.

So what is the ACTA?

The ACTA is a proposed trade agreement between participating countries to establish international standards on protecting intellectual property from copyright infringement. The UK is joined in the talks by the US, Japan, the EC, Australia, Singapore, the Republic of Korea and several others.

David Lammy defends the government’s secrecy by explaining how publicising details of the ACTA discussions could damage the UK’s relations with the rest of the involved nations, stating “this would harm our ability to protect, promote and secure an outcome in the UK’s interest, and the premature release of documents that are not agreed and not fully developed may also have a negative effect on the government’s reputation.”

“Negative effect on the government’s reputation” – I think the level of secrecy regarding ACTA has achieved that already! Unsurprisingly it is not just the MPs that are concerned by this secrecy. A number of consumer and trade organisations have also expressed their concerns including EuroISPA which deemed the talks as “heavy handed”. EuroISPA is also concerned that the talks will undermine the EU protection ISPs are currently afforded.

The major concern is that the results of the talks will end up favouring the entertainment industries whose lobbyists are party to the discussions. ACTA proposals published by the US last year confirmed that the government’s involved in the ACTA talks would seek to directly involve ISPs in the fight against online copyright infringement. However it has not yet been confirmed how or what that would entail.

The UK is already attempting to tackle this issue via its own legislation in the form of the Digital Economy Bill (DEB) which is currently being discussed by the House of Lords. Several MPs have raised concerns that the ACTA discussions could result in significant changes to the new DEB legislation. Liberal Democrat Don Foster has demanded Mandelson should “come clean” and disclose details of what effect these talks will have on UK legislation. Foster added “Legislation on Internet piracy is currently being debated in Parliament. Given that this agreement could override any decisions taken over the next few months, MPs have a right to know what is being decided.”Twelve MPs have already signed the Early Day Motion, 700 requesting the government discloses the details of the talks.

The secrecy around the talks is only encouraging the spread of suspicion and confusion amongst the MPs, the public and the consumer and trade bodies. Rumours have already been rife that the new laws will require customs officers to search Ipods and laptops for illegal music tracks – a fact that was later categorically denied by the government. But if they won’t tell us what is being discussed they can’t be surprised by the large amounts of speculation created.

We agree with Don Foster and the other MPs that the talks should not remain secret. The decisions made over the next few months will significantly impact on existing and forthcoming UK legislation and as our elected representatives they have a duty to keep us informed. From an industry point of view we are also concerned that whilst the entertainment industry’s lobbyists are party to the discussions, the ISPs who (as the US has already confirmed) will be significantly involved with the resulting enforcement strategies remain in the dark. Surely we have a right to hear and even participate in these discussions when they will significantly affect our industry, our business and our customers.

The discussions are set to continue over the next few months and we strongly support the MPs attempts to force disclosure of the talks details, after all the conclusions of these talks will affect all of us.

Have your say!

Are you also concerned by the secretive measures under which the Government is discussing ACTA? Or do you think this is being blown out of proportion and remain confident that the government will release the details when they see fit? Let us know by leaving us a comment below.

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