As PK legal eagle John Bergmayer noted in his blog post on attempts to “harmonize” copyright across national boundaries, the European Parliament decidedly rebuked the Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) in a decisive 663 to 13 vote yesterday. The approved joint resolution calls for the immediate release of ACTA texts and public access to the negotiations and prohibits the EU from continuing to engage in secret talks with the other ACTA parties. Moreover, the resolution forbids EU member states from implementing so-called “three strikes” regimes, which some have reported or interpreted ACTA as prescribing. Finally, the resolution, “stresses that, unless Parliament is immediately and fully informed at all stages of the negotiations, it reserves its right to take suitable action, including bringing a case before the Court of Justice in order to safeguard its prerogatives.” Needless to say, this resolution holds the potential to deal a massive blow to the secretive ACTA treaty and to finally shine a light on a purposefully opaque process. Unfortunately, here in the United States, policymakers are singing a very different tune.
This past Tuesday, in a speech delivered at the National Press Club, United States Trade Representative (USTR) Ron Kirk reiterated the United States’ commitment to move forward with ACTA, despite vocal opposition from public interest groups, the international community and the general public. As part of the Obama Administration’s “aggressive agenda,” Kirk identifies “negotiating new trade opportunities” as a key priority. Kirk lists ACTA among these, as an agreement designed to quell the “plague of international piracy,” “help support efforts to regain America’s competitive advantage…and protect the intellectual property that goes into…new products and services”. Kirk, of course, failed to mention the elephant in the room: the complete lack of transparency and balance that have defined ACTA at every stage of the negotiation process. In the words of PK staff attorney Rashmi Rangnath, “It’s as if he had never even heard any of the arguments made for opening up the ACTA process”.
With any luck, the EU Parliamentary resolution will mark the beginning of the end for ACTA, an agreement so tainted by secrecy that it must now be recognized as completely untenable. Just today, a spokesperson for Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade publicly stated that Australian negotiators do not plan to “harmonize” Australian IP law in accordance with ACTA and that “A decision will be taken on whether to join the treaty when it is finalised and only after further public and Parliamentary scrutiny”. These comments seem to indicate that international policymakers are already feeling the reverberations of the EU Parliament’s vote–a fact that will hopefully force the U.S. to abandon the deeply flawed agreement. Given the Obama Administration’s constantly reiterated commitment to transparency, it seems almost unthinkable that in the case of ACTA, reason would not ultimately prevail.
Update: Looks like President Obama has decided to weigh in on ACTA as well, throwing his support behind an agreement that mere days ago was found to contradict “the letter and the spirit” of the Treaty for the Functioning of the European Union. Here’s what he had to say (TechDailyDose via TechDirt):
There’s nothing wrong with other people using our technologies, we welcome it — we just want to make sure that it’s licensed, and that American businesses are getting paid appropriately,” Obama said. “That’s why [the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative] is using the full arsenal of tools available to crack down on practices that blatantly harm our businesses, and that includes negotiating proper protections and enforcing our existing agreements, and moving forward on new agreements, including the proposed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement.
That the President fails to acknowledge that ACTA’s complete lack of transparency uncomfortably brushes up against his usual rhetoric is hardly surprising–many have surmised that he’s as out of the loop on ACTA as the rest of us. His invocation of “our technologies” seems to lend credence to this idea. Publicly, ACTA has always been presented as an agreement designed to combat counterfeiting and piracy, in order to protect things like songs, movies and designer handbags. Technologies are generally protected by patents, not copyrights, and the USTR has publicly downplayed the importance of patents in the agreement. This disconnect suggests that whoever explained ACTA to the President presented it as falling in line with the Administration’s publicly stated tech agenda–which, as we all know, couldn’t be further from the truth.