Michael Geist is reporting that a new document about the secretive Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) has just been leaked. The document, a report on the most recent round of ACTA negotiations in Mexico, reveals more about where the parties are and what topics they are actually discussing.
The report notes the progress of various sections of ACTA, both in areas where there seems to be ready agreement, and areas where there was significant disagreement.
As for the former, it seems that the participating countries made “good progress” in the section on customs, particularly in “items like exemptions for personal luggage.” In other areas, such as the chapter on civil enforcement, it seems “progress became slow due to the different technical concepts of each legal system.”
The much-discussed Internet chapter was apparently only discussed among the ACTA parties in this latest meeting, and then not completely. As we keep noting, significant differences exist in the form and interpretation of the laws of the various ACTA-involved countries (this meeting was attended by Australia, Canada, representatives of the European Union, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland, and the United States), making promises not to alter domestic laws hard to deliver on. This is borne out by the document, which notes:
Discussions still focus on clarification of different technical concepts, therefore, there was not much progress in terms of common text. US and EU agreed to make presentations of their own systems at the next round, to clarify issues.
It'd be useful to know exactly what particular differences are causing the trouble, and one would think that the various copyright and trademark scholars around the world might be able to provide some insight into how the systems can and can't interact, and what sort of language can accommodate them.
But of course, that's not possible, since the text remains non-public. The new leak notes the discussions on transparency still are in progress:
Some progress on transparency, where parties agreed to update and improve the Joint Summary issued a few months ago in order to include the issues discussed in the last two rounds and to add a rebuttal of the mainunjustified rumours circulating about ACTA (control of laptops, iPods at the border; compulsory “three-strike rule” for internet infringers etc.). However, thee is no agreement yet on the release of the negotiating texts….
The document also notes that a three European countries are pressing for more transparency, and asking the European Commission to do the same. Apparently, however, the Commission is taking an equivocal, laissez-faire attitude in “not oppos[ing] the release of documents if there was a consensus in that sense,” while saying that it is “favourable to more transparency.”
As Geist notes, this leaked document is the sort of thing that can easily be issued by the negotiating governments, giving more insight into what the process is and what is being discussed, even if the negotiators wish to cling to the veil of secrecy.
But that veil's continued existence continues to be absurd. The headaches over rumors about border searches and mandatory three strikes can be easily avoided if the text were open and clearly lacked those features. The hard questions of addressing counterfeiting while protecting users' and consumers' rights, or accounting for different countries' different IP regimes, can all benefit from public debate and scrutiny. The more that we rely upon leaks for information about ACTA, the less credibility the official process has.