Byte Rights: Outing ACTA


ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, is a treaty on international IP enforcement being secretly negotiated between various nations and trade groups, because apparently the normally inscrutable WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) wasn’t arcane and opaque enough. Documents related to things like copyright enforcement at borders (read: taking your iPod away) have been given classified status as a national security matter by executive order. Really? National security?

When did national security get this lame? ACTA is making me miss the Cold War. Back then, when governments and corporations did back-room dealing, covering up their sinister moves with callous disregard for their citizens’ rights and well being, they were covering up doomsday nuclear stuff on sexy ’60s microfiche. They also had the decency to protect their secrets from James Bond with sexy spies and ninjas.

Instead, our dweeby leaders gave classified documents to the BSA and RIAA types, further degrading the cool of classified documents. They leaked. Bearing in mind there is no final treaty yet, the documents currently describe a global DMCA, except worse, which probably would shut down services like YouTube, Flickr, and Scribd, by making companies responsible for any infringing user-uploaded content. They also describe draconian border procedures against people who listen to music, set up a total surveillance state online, and do away with the 4th Amendment.

Why the pathetic subterfuge? Partly it’s a tactic called policy laundering, wherein no one can see who is responsible for what policy, and the parties can all claim to have compromised as hard as they could, they swear. The bad policy, you see, came from some other nation they can’t tell you about, and now we just have to live with it. The ACTA folks are also probably hoping that by showing up with a completed treaty, they can bypass messy negotiations with the elected lawmakers in all those nations and their pesky populations, who are less inclined to go along with provisions that allow massive prosecutions, unprecedented surveillance, and hobbling of the net. It would be one thing if they were irradiating the world’s gold supply, but all this in the name of stopping teens from using BitTorrent and poor nations from making cheap AIDS drugs? Weak.

Quinn Norton writes about copyright for
Wired News and other publications. Her work has ranged from legal journalism to the inner life of pirate organizations.

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