April 17, 2010

Countries Close to Forming Anti-Piracy Pact

Digital rights activists, who have been concerned over trade in fake and pirated goods, are close to reaching an agreement on a deal being negotiated with several countries, officials from the U.S. trade announced on Friday.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Trade Representative's office said in a statement that the "The agreement can be concluded soon if other participants make it a priority to achieve such progress now."

Activists for digital rights are worried the proposed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement could allow customs agents to seize laptop and music devices if they contain illegal content, while other groups fear it could restrict trade in lower-price prescriptions drugs.

Negotiators from the United States, the European Union, Japan and other countries said those fears were unjustified.

In a joint statement by the negotiating countries, which met at a conference in New Zealand, they said: "There is no proposal to oblige ACTA participants to require border authorities to search travelers' baggage or their personal electronic devices for infringing materials. In addition, ACTA will not address the cross-border transit of legitimate generic medicines."

To calm fears and concerns, the countries have agreed to release a consolidated "bracketed text" on Wednesday. The text brackets surround parts of the agreement still being negotiated on and will be the focus of the next meeting in Switzerland scheduled for June.

The secrecy of the texts in the past has helped raise suspicions over the pact, which began several years ago. "I think we're cautiously optimistic about this step" to release the text for public inspection, said Sherwin Siy, deputy legal director at Public Knowledge, a digital rights advocacy group.

Even with the release of the texts, concerns remain about the negative impact the agreement could have on Internet users, Siy said. One fear is the agreement could create an instance in which users who are suspected of downloading illegal content would have their accounts closed, he added.

In the joint statement made on Friday, a line points out that the agreement would not mandate a "three strikes" policy for copyright infringement. Public Knowledge would like a clearer statement that would assure Internet users that the agreement is "not encouraging governments to kick people off the Internet," Siy said.

The plan to release the text was welcomed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The text "should address many of the erroneous claims of the anti-ACTA critics," it said.

A successful agreement would "protect consumers and preserve American jobs," said Mark Esper, vice president of the Chamber's Global Intellectual Property Center.


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U.S. Trade Representative

U.S. Chamber of Commerce