Under Scrutiny, ACTA Negotiators Release Draft Text
Plurilateral negotiations toward an agreement to strengthen intellectual property enforcement became more transparent today, as the parties to the talks made their first public release of the official draft negotiating text. Since 2007, negotiators from roughly a dozen countries plus the EU have been trying to hammer out the details of an Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). Save for a few leaks, those talks have been conducted under a thick veil of secrecy - until today.
The release of an official draft comes after growing civil society mobilisation and public pressure on the parties to make the negotiations more transparent. A previous version of the text - dated January 2010 - was leaked online last month, but official information has been scant.
A statement released by the negotiating parties at the end of their eighth round of negotiations, which were held last week in New Zealand, reaffirmed that ACTA will not interfere with a signatory's ability to respect its citizens' fundamental rights and liberties. The officials also vowed that the deal under negotiation will be consistent with WTO's Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement) and that it will respect the WTO's Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health.
Responding to specific concerns raised by some members of civil society, the statement added that there are no plans to require border authorities to search travellers' baggage or their personal electronic devices for infringing material. It also denied affirmations that ACTA would require governments to mandate a "graduated response" or "three strikes" approach to copyright infringement on the Internet.
The United States Trade Representative (USTR) affirmed in a separate statement that it "continues to oppose extending provisions on criminal and border enforcement against trademark counterfeiting and copyright piracy to cover patents or other forms of intellectual property."
"The text makes clear what ACTA is really about," said EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht. "It will provide our industry and creators with better protection in overseas markets which is essential for business to thrive. It will not have a negative impact on European citizens."
James Love, director of the NGO Knowledge Ecology International, was not as enthusiastic. "It's late, very late, and missing a key element of transparency - the country positions," Love said on Wednesday. "Governments had to be forced by civil society groups to make the ACTA text public. Let's hope that the precedent for the future is to publish the texts, and to publish them much sooner."
"Now that the text is out, it will be easier to have public debates about its contents. It is unfortunate that the country positions were eliminated from the published version," Love added.
The next ACTA meeting will be held in Switzerland in June 2010. Negotiators have said that they hope to conclude the talks before the end of the year.