Why ACTA?

A friend asked me a set of simple questions: “Why are they doing this whole thing with the ACTA treaty? Why is it secret? Why is NZ participating?” He then followed up with: “Why are you against it?”

This set me thinking. There’s been lot of articles complaining about the secrecy around the ACTA negotiations (I’ve even written some) and worrying about the contents of it, but they often assume a certain level of knowledge of the base assumptions.

This article is an attempt to spell out some of the basic assumptions behind the opposition to the ACTA treaty. It’s a combination of some of the things I suspect are true, along with some of the claims I’ve seen from other people. As such it’s not a statement of how things are, but more a statement of what I and others fear to be true.

Some points that could be grouped to form an argument

  1. That the ACTA treaty is currently being negotiated by a number of countries including the USA, the EU, Australia and New Zealand.
  2. That the negotiation and the proposed content of the treaty is being kept a secret.
  3. That there is no plausible justification for negotiating the treaty in secret.
  4. That the ACTA treaty is going to go beyond anti-counterfeiting and try to impose new conditions around the use of copyright material.
  5. That compliance with the ACTA treaty will require signatories to implement domestic laws which specify draconian new penalties for people who breach copyright.
  6. That such penalties have long been a goal of those in the major content industries.
  7. That the content industry contributes a lot of money to US politicians.
  8. That US politicians are largely beholden to the people who financially support them.
  9. That the USA is behind the attempt to extend ACTA to copyright.
  10. That the USA knows that the wider public has a better understanding of copyright issues than the average politician.
  11. That the USA is behind the attempts to keep the ACTA negotiations secret as they know it will not stand up to mass scrutiny.
  12. That being a signatory of ACTA will be a pre-requisite to signing a free trade agreement with the US.
  13. That politicians in many countries, including New Zealand, see signing a free trade agreement with the US as good both for the country and their careers.
  14. That politicians don’t really understand the issues around copyright in the digital age.
  15. That politicians will be happy to sacrifice copyright issues if it gets them closer to a free trade agreement.

3 Responses to “Why ACTA?”

  1. 1Yeebok Shu'in on Feb 9, 2010 at 9:05 pm:

    That pretty much sums up what little I know about it, and what I fear as a result. In particular, point 12, that being a signatory to it will be a prerequisite for any trade agreement.
    If I understand it correctly that’s how the laws get in – they first become part of a trade agreement then the laws need to be changed to honour the agreement.

  2. 2thomas on Feb 9, 2010 at 9:15 pm:

    Yeebok – thanks for the comment.

    In New Zealand it works by the executive (Cabinet – the ministers of the ruling party) agreeing to the treaty, but any law changes following on from that have to go through Parliament.

    This normally follows as a matter of course, but not always. There was some embarrassment a year or two ago when NZ and Aust signed a treaty for unified treatment of therapeutic goods (e.g. pills sold in health food stores) but then the NZ Parliament refused to pass the associated law.

  3. 3Mark Harris on Feb 9, 2010 at 9:30 pm:

    1, 2, 6, 7, 13, & 14 are facts.
    4, 5, 11, 12, & 15 are reasonable suppositions, based on previously known facts and political pronouncements ostensibly unrelated to ACTA.
    3, 8, 9, & 10 are opinion, perhaps reasonably held but unable to be proved evidentially.

    Until we have the text, we should focus on the facts. The other points are worthy of consideration, but focussing on them plays into the hands of those who are promoting ACTA, as they can dismiss us as “hysterical speculators”

    $0.02 ;-)