Yet again the UK Government has pushed through controversial legislation without proper scrutiny in order to satisfy the demands of the powerful entertainment industry and to the detriment of the Internet industry.
Previously it was the DEA that was passed through hurriedly as part of the wash-up. Now ACTA (the Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement), which aims to establish an international trade agreement to combat the issue of counterfeit goods and establish international standards for copyright enforcement, has been passed through as part of an agriculture and fisheries meeting!
Perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised, after news in December that the Council of the European Union had approved the treaty even though the secretive way in which this agreement has been treated was criticised. Worryingly this agreement was signed just weeks after several high profile websites including Wikipedia observed a ‘blackout’ in protest of the US Government’s proposed SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act), a similar Act that has since been postponed.
- ISPReview.co.uk: Council of the European Union Quietly Adopts ACTA Internet Copyright Treaty
- BBC.co.uk: Sopa and Pipa bills postponed in US Congress
We first contributed to concerns back in 2010 when all of the talks regarding this trade agreement were held in secret. As snippets of information and the occasional documents were leaked out, this secrecy began to spread suspicion and all manner of suggestions were reported by the press including the rumour that citizens would have their iPods searched at airports for pirated content. This was later confirmed as incorrect.
- Opinion: ACTA secrecy breeds suspicion
The shroud of secrecy surrounding ACTA was finally lifted and the EU published the working text for this agreement. However this did not end the controversy.
One of our biggest bug bears is the fact that the agreement still calls for ISPs to police the Internet. Unfortunately, with the forthcoming implementation of the DEA and now the sneaky signing of ACTA, it seems it will be inevitable that ISPs will be pushed into adopting this role over the coming years. At the time of the working draft being released, EuroISPA commented that the ACTA measures will leave ISPs with “no alternative other than to monitor the internet traffic of consumers”.
What does this mean for the UK?
To be fair, our domestic laws are already much more stringent than the guidelines set by ACTA, especially once the DEA has been fully implemented. What angers us is that the Government has been able to pass this and the DEA without proper scrutiny and that, yet again, this legislation is unfairly biased in favour of the entertainment industry which, in our opinion, needs to wake up to how the Internet works and properly address how customers want their products.
We’re clearly not alone in our views. The underhanded nature of ACTA is also felt by its rapporteur, Kader Arif, who was originally assigned to investigate ACTA by the European Parliament but has since resigned from his post and launched a scathing attack on the agreement.
He said: “I want to denounce in the strongest possible manner the entire process that led to the signature of this agreement: no inclusion of civil society organisations, a lack of transparency from the start of the negotiations, repeated postponing of the signature of the text without an explanation being ever given, exclusion of the EU Parliament’s demands that were expressed on several occasions in our assembly.
As rapporteur of this text, I have faced never-before-seen manoeuvres from the right wing of this Parliament to impose a rushed calendar before public opinion could be alerted, thus depriving the Parliament of its right to expression and of the tools at its disposal to convey citizens’ legitimate demands.
Everyone knows the ACTA agreement is problematic, whether it is its impact on civil liberties, the way it makes Internet access providers liable, its consequences on generic drugs manufacturing, or how little protection it gives to our geographical indications.
This agreement might have major consequences on citizens’ lives, and still, everything is being done to prevent the European Parliament from having its say in this matter. That is why today, as I release this report for which I was in charge, I want to send a strong signal and alert the public opinion about this unacceptable situation. I will not take part in this masquerade.”
Jérémie Zimmermann, Spokesperson for La Quadrature du Net, said: “Our governments are bypassing democratic processes to impose draconian repressive measures. They know that such measures would be very difficult to obtain through regular legislative process, so they have them imposed through the back door.”
Despite several countries already signing up to ACTA its critics haven’t given up hope at getting this agreement re-considered. Over the next week or so over 100 protests are expected to take place across Europe, publicising the impact of this agreement. Those that have already taken place in Slovenia appear to have had the desired effect as the country’s ambassador to Japan apologised for her “carelessness” in signing the agreement and encouraged further protests.
Have your say!
What are your thoughts on this controversial agreement? Do you think ACTA will help to solve the problems of counterfeit goods and copyright infringement? Do you share our frustrations over the way in which ACTA and the DEA have been passed by the Government? Let us know your views by leaving us a comment below.
- Opinion: ACTA secrecy breeds suspicion
- Opinion: Secrecy shroud lifted on Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement
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