Thursday, June 28, 2012

Dumb, and Dumber. Why on earth did Australia sign ACTA?

A treaty signed by the Australian government that could have made it illegal to link to or mention on the web other websites that breached copyright law has been struck down by an all-party parliamentary committee.

The so-called Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement would have also broadened the definition of the term “counterfeiting” to call into question the legality of manufacturing generic medicines.

Negotiated largely in secret, and signed by trade minister Craig Emerson in Tokyo the agreement was sent to the treaties community for examination prior to ratification.

Usually the committee gives a tick to such agreements. Yesterday in a unanimous report signed by Labor, Green and Coalition members of the parliament the committee said no.

“During the life of this committee we have recommended the ratification of hundreds of treaties,” chairman Kelvin Thomson said yesterday. “It has only been a handful that we have recommended anything other than ratification. This is one of those exceptions.”

The committee found the wording of the treaty vague with terms such as “aiding and abetting”, “piracy”, “counterfeiting” and “intellectual property” dangerously open-ended.

The agreement was “significantly more stringent and rights-holder friendly” than the earlier Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights to which Australia is already a party. On “frequent occasions” it criminalises behaviour “without including safeguards for defendants"...

The committee has asked for an independent assessment of the economic and social benefits and costs of the treaty and for the final report of the Law Reform Commission’s inquiry into copyright and the digital economy before the considers ratifying the treaty.

The Law Reform Commission is not due to report until late 2013. The committee was concerned that ratifying the treaty might make its findings redundant.

“We should also have regard to what is going on overseas,” Mr Thomson said. “There is a rebellion in Europe. Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Poland are all putting the thing on hold. There was a vote in the European parliament’s international trade committee last week in which ACTA went down 19 to 12. Even the US has not ratified it. We should not be out ahead of the places where the whole thing originated.”

Greens senator Scott Ludlam said the treaty seemed to be a foundation agreement for a serious crackdown on file sharing.

“The wording is broad, but you can see where it is going to end up,” he said.

In today's Sydney Morning Herald and Age

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. Why do we negotiate free trade agreements in secret?

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. What extending the copyright term exterminates