The ACTA Fight Returns: What Is at Stake and What You Can Do

The reverberations from the SOPA fight continue to be felt in the U.S. (excellent analysis from Benkler and Downes) and elsewhere (mounting Canadian concern that Bill C-11 could be amended to adopt SOPA-like rules), but it is the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement that has captured increasing attention this week. Several months after the majority of ACTA participants signed the agreement, most European Union countries formally signed the agreement yesterday (notable exclusions include Germany, the Netherlands, Estonia, Cyprus and Slovakia). 

This has generated a flurry of furious protest: thousands have taken to the streets in protest in Poland, nearly 250,000 people have signed a petition against the agreement, and a Member of the European Parliament has resigned his position as rapporteur to scrutinize the agreement, concluding that the entire review process is a “charade.”

Some are characterizing ACTA as worse than SOPA, but the reality is somewhat more complicated. From a substantive perspective, ACTA’s Internet provisions are plainly not as bad as those contemplated by SOPA. Over the course of several years of public protest and pressure, the Internet provisions were gradually watered down with the removal of three strikes and you’re out language. Other controversial provisions on statutory damages and anti-camcording rules were made optional rather than mandatory.

While the Internet provisions may not be as bad as SOPA, the remainder of the agreement raises many significant concerns.

Countries such as India have expressed concern that it conflicts with the TRIPS Agreement. Other elements of the agreement increase the standards in the WIPO Internet Treaties and the commercial scale definition at the WTO. The agreement adds new criminal provisions, pressures ISPs to take greater action, and heightens border measures. There remains ongoing debate as to whether the substance of ACTA requires legislative change in many signatory countries (a somewhat dated site on many ACTA issues here).

Beyond the substantive concerns, the ACTA process remains a major issue as it sets a dangerous precedent for international IP agreements. For years, the ACTA process was shrouded in secrecy, with only the occasional leak bringing plans to light. Wikileaks cables confirmed that the secrecy was viewed as a serious problem in many participant countries. In fact, even as most countries supported greater transparency and the release of draft texts, the U.S. steadfastly refused, using transparency as a bargaining chip to extract concessions from other negotiating partners. In addition to the transparency problems during the negotiations, the express exclusion of many countries from the process raises real fears that they will face increased pressure to meet ACTA standards in the years ahead.

Given the ongoing concerns, the big question now is whether much can be done. The majority of ACTA countries have signed the agreement, but it will only take effect once five countries have formally implemented and ratified it. That is not expected until at least May 2013, opening the door to stopping the agreement from taking effect. While there are global initiatives such as the AccessNow petition, much of the activity has shifted to specific countries or regions:

  • Europe is home to the most active anti-ACTA effort since there is still a possibility that the European Parliament may reject the treaty. There remain serious doubts about whether ACTA is consistent with the EU Acquis.  Learn more about what can be done at La Quadrature du Net, EDRI, the Open Rights Group, and FFII.
  • In Canada, the Department of Foreign Affairs is conducting an open consultation on ACTA. Email your comments to the department or write Consultations and Liaison Division (BSL), Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, Lester B. Pearson Building, 125 Sussex Drive, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0G2. A March 2011 Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage report recommended limiting Canada’s ACTA commitments.
  • In the U.S., much of the focus is on whether ACTA must be approved by Congress. Senator Wyden has raised questions about the issue. KEI has extensive coverage of the U.S. perspective on ACTA.
  • In Australia, the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties is accepting submissions on ACTA until January 27, 2012 (Kim Weatherall’s submission here). Australia tabled the agreement in Parliament on November 21, 2011 and has taken the position the agreement will not require any legislative changes. The Australia Productivity Commission recommended in 2010 that Australia not include IP provisions in trade agreements.
  • The New Zealand government has posted information on ACTA on its website.
  • Switzerland and Mexico have yet to sign ACTA.

The dangers associated with ACTA are not limited to this particular agreement. The agreement opens the door to further secretive negotiations, such as the Trans Pacific Partnership, which contain extensive IP provisions that extend beyond ACTA.  The SOPA battle was a big win for those concerned with balanced copyright and the open Internet, but it is by no means the end of the fight.


  1. pat donovan says:

    illegal, immorla and fattening.

    the actions are illegal. provincial property rights cover the material, not international treaties.

    this will be used as a cover for the destruction of the system that allowed them to exist.

    so they destroy themselves.. BUT only after resistance.

    the not withstanding clause clause will not eliminate trade problems; like fruit-flies in a bottle, they’ll die of their own wastes.

    hopefully soon.


  2. Is It Legal?
    I’m no lawyer but it seems to me that ACTA is a violation of the Competition Act. Why should we let foreign interests undercut our laws?

  3. But the US have already stated that the will not ratify ACTA.
    That makes ACTA a strangling collar for Europe, Australia and Canada, if they sign it.
    Because I don’t have the idea that either Russia or China will ratify.
    There will come dark times for our free speech.

  4. It should be stated that hundreds of THOUSANDS of protesters showed their strength in Poland. Most tabloids that I read downplay this number. It was extrapolated that close to a quarter of a million protesters protested in one day, spanning multiple cities.

  5. Insane amount of protesters in Szczecin (Poland)
    I second Mark’s comment. I’ve seen news articles make it seem like there were a few thousand protesters.

    This is footage from one city, Szczecin, population ~420 000.

  6. True, the three strikes rule did not appear in the final ACTA text. But there is a provision for ACTA to be amended, and that’s a way to reintroduce a three strikes rule.

    Some countries have already enacted legislation that has the same effect as the three-strikes rule proposed in the early ACTA text. HADOPI in France has already seen hundreds of thousands of account holders being “educated” about their alleged infringements.

    And a three-strikes rule really is hardly needed, now that ISPs have agreed to “to combat “Online infringement” by “educating subscribers about the importance of copyright protection and lawful ways to obtain movies and music online”. If alleged copyright infringement constitutes a breach of the ISP’s terms of service, suspending service for those who fail to heed the warnings is a very real outcome.

  7. Taking action
    Why not join the FFII list for activities in Europe?

    They could tell you how they won the software patents fight before!

  8. Corporate Welfare
    All of these laws are just corporate welfare. Big corporations trying to get governments to enforce their property rights. Governments give copyrights and patents and trademark rights as a Government sanctioned right to exclude others. Enforcement of those rights should be up to the corporations who are being harmed. They need to make an economic decision, is enforcement cost effective. For most cases of infringement its not worth the money to go after the infringer. What they decided is if it can be criminalized then big government with lots of other peoples money can go get infringers at no cost to them. This will increase their bottom line by offloading all enforcement costs to the taxpayer. Not a good idea for us taxpayers. Not a good idea for freedom.

  9. The needs of the many, ignored by government, to satisfy the greed of the few
    There are a number of petitions currently, some are Country dependent some not. Should we sign them all?…et_spread/?tta

    are the ones I have seen and signed…. are there others?

  10. Next elections?
    “HADOPI in France has already seen hundreds of thousands of account holders being “educated” about their alleged infringements. ”

    Hopefully, in France, someone is standing up and educating these account holders about who they should be voting for come the next National (and European!) elections.

  11. No more corporate welfare or policy laundering
    “N2Liberty,” you made a fantastic comment. That is exactly right and you perfectly encapsulated what these underhanded corporations are trying to do. Who are the true pirates?

  12. Bubba the prison rapist says:

    ACTA implications
    these also have implications for: independent makes of car repair parts, generic medicine and enforcement of GMO

  13. autofactotum says:

    When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty!
    @N2Liberty, you completely nailed it. Ultimately, all these costs fall on not only the consumer, but the taxpayer as well – and since most taxpayers are consumers too, it basically amounts to a double taxation… all to keep afloat what would otherwise be a failed business mode – we’ll all be effectively paying for our own imprisonment.

    The government offloads it’s costs to the citizen, and businesses offload their costs to the consumer. ACTA is another landgrab by both business and government to make a great leap in that ongoing policy to ensure the rich get more powerful, and the poor get weaker.

  14. Create
    If you’re a blogger or a researcher or anyone else *contributing* to the sum of human knowledge through the Internet, please keep on doing that. ACTA has no impact on you.

    All those who just want to watch movies for free and who are scared by ACTA; please leave the Internet now. We don’t need or want you.

  15. Create
    …”researcher or anyone else *contributing*”
    …”just want to watch movies for free”

    Too black and white. Too simplistic. There are many that don’t do either of the above, and there are many that do both. And lots of grey areas between.

    Abuse of ACTA terms, even among those simply *contributing* to the internet, has it’s chilling effects.

  16. yeah how dare you oppose invasion of privacy? do you have something to hide?


  17. Trolls Be Gone
    ACTA has tentacles far beyond the claims of piracy or downloaded movies. MPAA has reportedly been very concerned about the Wikileaks provision in ACTA. [See MPAA and Australia.] Wikileaks has apparently exposed the MPAA as the ones bullying and bribing foreign governments into submission. MPAA doesn’t want foreign people to know it’s big bully America behind it, but wants them to think it’s their own government. Wikileaks has nothing to do with copyrights or piracy. ACTA and its evil cousins are pretexts for shutting down the flow of information. Anyone who doesn’t recognize that this is a kind of world war doesn’t understand the enormity of what’s going on.

  18. Separation of Business and State
    Enforcement of piracy is a civil business matter that should be resolved through the judicial system via the many existing laws on piracy. PERIOD. No industry has the right to kill civil liberties, the democratic process, or the internet for its own business interest.

  19. Re: Separation of Business and State
    No business should be allowed to participate in politics in any manner. No lobbying, no campaign contributions, no representation in debates. Politics is for people, not business.

  20. HADOPI
    Well… whadayaknow. It seems the challenger for the French presidency, Francois Hollande, wants to replace the three-strike HADOPI law with “something else” (the right-wing Front National is also against HADOPI). The reactions from the likes of Mitterrand and Sarkozy are of course entirely predictable: the poooooor artists.

    The elections are in April, so this might be very relevant to where ACTA is going. Sarkozy is deep in the pockets of Big Content (his reaction to the takedown of MegaUpload can not be more telling).

  21. Piracy = Bad; Freedom of speech = Good
    I agree to the fact that piracy is wrong, but censoring the whole goddamn internet doesn’t seem the way to do it…

  22. tune out
    All these proposals ask me to say “no” to a limitless future. One where I have to say no to giving or being given out of abundance. It’s like a tax on air.

    So I say save all your money and all your time, and tune out from commercial content. Talk to your friends; go outside. You won’t die if you never see another movie about war or how there’s beauty in ‘the little things’, or buy another song by the latest loudmouth or angsty goth (i mean ‘hipster’), or read another book about people who keep secrets and the collateral damage from those secrets, or play a game based on a book or a movie or another game. Letting the industry die might be the only way to see the other side of this.

    Something else occurred also to me while I was looking at The Internet Movie Database… Almost all of the reviews were written by users. Why do we give our time and effort to add value to an industry that hates us?

    Wikipedia made a stand, so I still feel good contributing to that, but I will not contribute when I am not treated well, and I will undo my contribution when it is my right.

    I have deleted the reviews I contributed to IMDB since leaving them up makes me feel used. It’s not my natural approach to life or the Internet, but it is what the content industries and government are asking from me, and it’s one way I have a voice.

  23. Serious Web Page Layout Issue on iPad
    Middle column ignores right column boundary and is displayed on top of it, making the page unreadable.

    Oddly, this behaviour appears only in this blog entry of the 10 or so checked

    Anybody else seeing this?

  24. Chris Brand says:

    What should Canadians be asking for ?
    “The Honourable Ed Fast, Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia Pacific Gateway, signed the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement on behalf of Canada on October 1, 2011 at a ceremony in Tokyo …”, according to the Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada website.

    So what should we be asking from our government ?

  25. Dumb lazy Canadians
    Piracy isn’t hurting anyone for god sakes it’s all a lie the MPAA/RIAA made up! Wake up Canada start what USA does and petition for out Internet freedom they want to destroy!

  26. Underlying economic threat
    The global economy operates within a closed finite system aproximately equal to value.
    Physical limits to production(copy) keep the system finite and provide mutual flow of value via trade.
    The digital domain removes physical limits to copy. A digital product allows potentially infinite copy.
    If you apply ANY monetary charge to a product that can be infinitely copied it has one affect – and one affect only – it drains every dollar from the physical domain – thus transfering all wealth into the pockets of “rights” owners.
    The impost of per-unit monetarisation of digital product is guaranteed to rupture the finite market economy and deliver all power into the hands of “rights” holders.
    The only defence to this rupture is free unfettered download. If that means being a “pirate” then I suppose we all better get a parrot and say Aaaaarrrr.

    It is true that piracy claims by MPAA and RIAA have been exaggerated, and certainly aren’t a threat to their business. They are making more money than ever. Even if piracy were a threat, it’s not the world’s job to pay for their enforcement, with taxpayer law enforcement, the loss of civil liberties, or handing over ownership of the internet. They have provided no stats on piracy except for the fabricated data they got caught lying to U.S. Congress about a few years ago. That is why they are resorting to back room secret trade agreements like ACTA – such shady dealings bypass the democratic process. The real goal of these “anti-piracy” bills is for these 6 corporations to lasso the internet for more sources of revenue, shake down people for baseless copyright accusations, and to prevent individual artists from marketing their art online and bypassing traditional corporations. MPAA and RIAA gouge artists and customers in extremis and that is why the music biz is dead – not because of so-called “piracy.” Instead of changing their ways, these corporations are seeking to cut off any alternative avenues for artists and kill the internet. Then they try to use the “save the starving artist” propaganda to justify these odious bills. You don’t see any artists coming out in support of these bills.

  28. I like tune-out’s comment. It’s time to stop purchasing or viewing any of their crap. Our world is becoming more and more like 1984. It’s time for everyone to unite and reject all these greedy people who are willing to remove our basic freedoms all in the name of a few dollars, of which they already have billions upon billions. We are being lied to by all and it’s so obvious. It’s unfortunate that most people are unable to see what is happening. Media bias is keeping everything hidden.