What's all the fuss about ACTA?

Filed Under: Featured, Law & order

ACTA protesterThe recent protests against US bills PIPA and SOPA resulted in a victory for cyberactivism after the bills were shelved (for now). Now a new target is attracting controversy among the mobilised masses: ACTA.

The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement is a multilateral agreement establishing rules to tackle piracy and counterfeiting on a global level.

In secret negotiation since 2008, ACTA hit the headlines recently when 22 of the 27 EU Member States signed it. Many high profile protests have followed since.

The European Parliament's lead negotiator for ACTA, Kader Arif, left his post stating, "ACTA goes too far", Polish opposition politicians donned Anonymous-like Guy Fawkes masks in parliament, and there have been protests across Europe.

Clearly ACTA is controversial, but why so much resentment?

Not an easy question to answer; this is a pretty complex debate.

On one side the European Commission released "10 Myths about ACTA" which has been criticised by digital activist group La Quadrature du Net for masking the real dangers and being overly "pro-ACTA".

On the other side, Ars Technica reported on the myths being spread by "anti-ACTA" activists.

ACTA protesterWaters are further muddied by the recirculation of old versions of the text. Many of ACTA's most controversial elements were removed back in 2010. These included demanding implementation of 'three strikes' disconnection regimes and digital rights management (DRM) systems.

The current incarnation of the legislation is far from harmless; it's just not as bad as it was and there are many sources doing a great job of debunking myths, like the European Digital Rights' ACTA factsheet and FAQ.

Here are just a few of the many reasons why ACTA, in its current form, is controversial.

  1. Criminal Sanctions - ACTA asks for criminal sanctions to be applied to piracy issues at a global level, often with a low threshold for breaking the law. Broad and unclear drafting with terms like "deriving indirect economic advantage" or "aiding and abetting" in the spread of pirated material are two such examples.
  2. Enforcement - ACTA requires countries to enforce its rules by "cooperation with companies". Wide discretion may create great variations in how heavy-handed or modest the enforcement will be.
  3. It is global/multilateral - it applies standards negotiated by heavy lobbying in the US to all signatories. If it passes it will be international law and hard (if not impossible) to get repealed.
  4. Negotiated in secret - ACTA's negotiation makes a mockery of accountability and democracy in multilateral law making, especially by not involving civil society.

There are also significant global impacts on public health and generic drugs, and competition rules too.

If you have concerns about ACTA, what can you do? Read up on it, it's a complicated beast. In Europe, it is not law...yet. It has to get past the European Parliament in June this year, so get in touch with your MEP.

Plus, it's all or nothing with ACTA as no renegotiation of the text is possible at this late stage. Democracy might still win the day yet.

Images courtesy of The Inquisitr and the International Business Times.

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12 Responses to What's all the fuss about ACTA?

  1. S0_wuut · 1298 days ago

    I find it really annoying how the governments are so desperate for ACTA.. why are they craving this type of censorship so badly?

    Piracy? Sure.

  2. Michael · 1298 days ago

    Why? Because politicians are being paid to? Because copyright, currently being taken to the extreme, is incompatible with the Internet?

    Lately we've been witnessing a worrying trend towards more censorship and invasions of privacy by governments across the world, and this is by far the biggest 'cyber threat' facing us today.
    I can only hope there'll be another generation of experts as innovative and talented as the guys who created the Internet, and that enough infosec professionals out there will be able to protect the freedoms we have. One thing I'm certain of is the Internet will be very different by the end of this decade, for better or worse.

  3. Richard · 1298 days ago

    "... demanding implementation of 'three strikes' disconnection regimes ..."

    Because it's not like we've already got that in the UK, is it? It wasn't, for example, rushed through parliament in secret back-room deals during Labour's last days in power, or anything like that, was it?!

  4. R. Dale Barrow · 1298 days ago

    PIPA, SOPA and ACTA - the finest protection of intellectual property rights money can buy.

  5. Bruno · 1298 days ago

    I want to take a moment to thank you Mr. Urquhart for talking about it. You showed great integrity throught your post by talking both sides of the story.

    That being said, as some of you may have realized, until very recently, no media what so ever has reported on the matter at hand (many of those medias are owned by the sames companies who will enjoy from what ACTA can do...more $$$ in their pockets)

    WE MUST ALERT THE PUBLIC. It is up to the people to make up their mind on whether ACTA goes too far. No more myths... just the plain old truth!

    I, for one, stand against it!! It goes against everything true freedom stand for!! As a I.T. engineer student, I'm becoming worried about the future of internet. It's losing more and more of its freedom everyday.

    For those who wish to oppose to ACTA, feel free to sign the online petition if you haven't already : http://www.avaaz.org/en/eu_save_the_internet/

  6. Mike · 1297 days ago

    Are democratic governments not run by the people? Where is the push for this legislation coming from? It's certainly not coming from the people.

    • Richard · 1297 days ago

      Don't be silly! Democratic governments are run by the people who make the largest donations to the ruling party - in this case, the multi-billionaire plutocrats in charge of the media industry. If you don't pay, you don't get a say!

      • Nigel · 1297 days ago


        Unfortunately, that's the truth. This is NOT the free market of pure capitalism, whose fundamental focus favors the individual's freedom of action. Rather, what we have here is corporatism, whose fundamental focus favors increasingly larger collectives. Such collectivism is actually a form of nationalized corporate socialism --- state-sanctioned, state-licensed enterprises, which serve as proxies for the state.

        Any way you cut it, it's the antithesis of free enterprise. If there's no free enterprise, there's no freedom. Period. Democracy? That's a laugh. The system has been twisted and perverted so that the "vote" is little more than a rubber-stamp seal of approval that legitimizes the large scale, legalized theft and suppression of individual liberties already committed by political states and their corporate cohorts...and it's getting worse.

        The sole purpose of government is to secure liberty and protect lives and property, and NOT to trample them in the process. Once you subscribe to the belief that government "grants" such things, you automatically concede that it has the power to take them away. Then it's game over. ACTA is just one more step in the process.

        I'm reminded of the words of Benjamin Franklin (paraphrased): Those who are willing to trade liberty for security deserve neither liberty nor security.

  7. Terry · 1297 days ago

    ACTA has zero DEMOCRATIC legitimacy. It is a collection of diktats conceived in secret by democraphobes. As such it, and those who seek to further it, must be defeated by democratists acting directly against dictats, dictators and dictatorship.

    Action this day!

  8. Beth H · 1297 days ago

    Ok people who seem to want everything for free, even when it is created through the hard work of others: what DO you suggest to keep us creatives from being out out of business by digital piracy? I am going under and many of my friends already have.

    Here in the states, there is little to no support of artists that would allow them to give away their work (or have it stolen which is more accurate)

    Everyone posts about how bad all of this "cencorship" is but does not suggest any remedies. Why? No ideas? Or you just want stuff for free? If there were some useful alternatives that would be useful, and would help to keep many creatives employed in the businesses we strive so hard to be a part of.

    • Michael · 1297 days ago

      There are two ways of looking at this. If you are going under, is that really because of 'piracy', or because your business model just doesn't work? If your product's not in demand, or you can't market it effectively, ACTA's not going to help you.
      I create software and give it away free, partly because I'm being honest with myself about its commercial value.

      And am I right in assuming what passes for a free and open Internet contributed vastly to whatever success you had in the past? With something like ACTA, you can kiss goodbye to the idea of getting your name out there - nobody would even be aware of your work, unless you knew the right people.

      On the subject of ideas, yes I'm working on a particularly innovative one capable of defeating censorship, capable of even rendering useless the traffic filtering that's implemented in China.

  9. Jenn · 1295 days ago

    As disturbing as I find the loss of privacy and freedom, I find the punishments dealt for "stealing" content even more disturbingly over the top. One very plain example: Woman downloads a movie, could be fined into the hundreds of thousands (US Dollars) while a woman who steals DVD from a store might "enjoy" a slap on the wrist and a fine that is likely in the hundreds (if at all). Why is it worse if it's downloaded?

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About the author

Lachlan Urquhart is a legal academic from Edinburgh, Scotland who has completed an LL.B at the University of Edinburgh and recently concluded a postgraduate LL.M in Information Technology and Telecommunications Law at the University of Strathclyde. For more articles from Lachlan, visit his blog.