Skip the navigation

Groups rip secrecy over IP protection talks

Trade pact called pretext to push for tougher online copyright protect laws, critics claim

May 12, 2009 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - The secrecy surrounding an anticounterfeiting trade agreement that's being negotiated by several countries, including the U.S., is heightening concerns about the intent of the pact.

Adding a sense of urgency to the concerns is that the trade agreement talks are expected to move on to new Internet provisions that could have broad implications for Internet users and service providers.

Last week, two digital rights groups, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Public Knowledge called on the U.S. government to release more data on the agreement after a Freedom of Information Act request they had filed last year yielded little information.

Like several others, the two groups are concerned that the trade agreement is being used as a pretext by the entertainment industry and other content providers to advance sweeping new regulations for enforcing copyright on the Internet.

"The agreement increasingly looks like an attempt by Hollywood and the content industries to perform an end-run around national legislatures and public international forums," to advance aggressive changes in copyright enforcement, said Sherwin Sly, a staff attorney at Public Knowledge.

The agreement, called the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), was first disclosed in the U.S. in October 2007 by the office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR). At that time, the agreement was described as a "major" step in the fight against global piracy and counterfeiting of intellectual property.

According to the USTR, the trade agreement will focus on increasing international cooperation and information-sharing around intellectual property protection and result in the creation of stronger laws and standard enforcement procedures. The legal provisions being considered include those covering criminal enforcement of IP rights and the Internet distribution of IP. The countries involved in the treaty include the U.S., Canada, the 27-member states of the European Union, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, New Zealand and Switzerland.

A six-page summary of the trade agreement was released by the trade representative's office April 6.

What has alarmed a number of trade groups and civil rights advocates is that, beyond such brief summaries, little information has been released on the measures being contemplated. Almost all of the negotiations have been behind closed doors and the first details on the effort came via a leaked document posted by whistleblower site last year.

Since then, several groups have urged the federal government to divulge more information on the pact, but the requests so far have yielded little action. After the FOIA request last September, the USTR released about 160 pages of information on ACTA. However, another 1,300 additional pages on ACTA were withheld for reasons of national security, among other things, according to the EFF.

Our Commenting Policies