Perceived by its detractors as heavy-handed, overreaching threats to freedom of expression and other forms of legitimate commerce, the defeat of U.S. House bill SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and its counterpart in the Senate, PIPA (The PROTECT IP Act) was hailed as a major victory for advocates of a free and open internet.
However, global internet users and businesses should be prepared for similar legislation that reaches beyond U.S. borders. Meet ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. If you depend upon international audiences and the free flow of information online, familiarity with ACTA and its legal implications is a must. Championed by U.S. and Japanese businesses, hashed out behind closed doors, and touching on everything from copyright infringement to generic drug importation, this new treaty is close to becoming a reality for businesses, citizens, and netizens worldwide.
While the rise and (current) defeat of SOPA/PIPA stormed the U.S. media, it’s surprising that its international counterpart, ACTA has garnered relatively little attention. SOPA and PIPA would have undoubtedly had an impact on U.S. internet users (and some international providers to U.S. audiences), but ACTA is perhaps more restrictive to freedom of speech (and trade!) due to its international scope.
ACTA’s aim is intellectual property rights enforcement and encompasses counterfeit goods, generic medicines, and copyright infringement, ACTA was championed by the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.
Whereas SOPA and PIPA were shot down while relatively new, ACTA was developed outside of public scrutiny and has already been signed by Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and the United States. Around the same time SOPA and PIPA were put on hold, 22 EU countries signed as well, though none have yet ratified the treaty.
The enforcement of ACTA would rely on a new governing body, circumventing the WTO (World Trade Organization), WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) and UN. Under ACTA, this new governing body would be able to censor Internet activity outside of the authority of any country.
Photo attribution: Bart van de Biezen