Posts Tagged ‘Copyright’

The global fascist elite have brought out the big guns and taken aim at the Internet

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In the United States, a massive Internet protest last week led by Wikipedia and Google drove congressional leaders to place controversial anti-piracy legislation on hold. But in other parts of the world, another proposal to increase copyright enforcement is gaining momentum, despite protests from opponents concerned about Internet censorship.

The European Union and 22 of its member states signed the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, or ACTA,  today at a signing ceremony in Tokio — a major step toward enforcement of the copyright treaty. Though initiated by the US, Japan is the official depository of the treaty.

Signatories include the UK, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden. The five remaining member states — Cyprus, Germany, Estonia Netherlands and Slovakia, are also expected to sign soon. Any countries wishing to sign the agreement have until May 2013 to do so.

Eight countries, including the United States, Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore and South Korea, had already signed the agreement on October 1, 2011.

Although the EU has signed the agreement, it still has to be ratified by the European Parliament before it can go into effect. This is expected to happen in June, and will almost certainly happen since the Parliament has already accepted the text. European digital rights groups are calling for an anti-ACTA campaign along the lines of the anti-SOPA campaign.

ACTA has always been controversial because the international negotiations that began in 2006 took place in secret. Leaked cables published by WikiLeaks in 2009 exposed early drafts of ACTA, resulting in a firestorm of controversy.

Those cables, coupled with later releases, showed that ACTA negotiations began in 2006 and were controversial even to participating states. But now, opponents of the treaty have developed new muscle after witnessing the success of the Internet outcry against the two U.S. bills, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA).

Kader Arif, rapporteur for ACTA in the European Parliament, immediately quit his role as rapporteur (an EU legal term for an official appointed by a deliberative body to investigate a specific issue). He denounced the signing of the agreement, quoted by French digital rights organization La Quadrature, in some of the strongest political terms ever heard:

“I want to denounce in the strongest possible manner the entire process that led to the signature of this agreement: no inclusion of civil society organisations, a lack of transparency from the start of the negotiations, repeated postponing of the signature of the text without an explanation being ever given, exclusion of the EU Parliament’s demands that were expressed on several occasions in our assembly.”  

He went on to conclude, “This agreement might have major consequences on citizens’ lives, and still, everything is being done to prevent the European Parliament from having its say in this matter. That is why today, as I release this report for which I was in charge, I want to send a strong signal and alert the public opinion about this unacceptable situation. I will not take part in this mascarade.”

In Poland, thousands took to the streets this week to protest the government’s intention to sign ACTA. Several popular Polish websites replaced their regular content with statements expressing concerns about ACTA, and government websites were taken offline in an apparent denial-of-service attack coordinated by the hacktivist group Anonymous. The group also attacked and took offline the Federal Trade Commission’s website yesterday in protest against the treaty.

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20,000 Polish Protesters Take to the Streets in Defiance of Global Oppression

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For copyright holders, an international treaty may offer fewer roadblocks to combating digital piracy, critics say. While SOPA and PIPA sought to change U.S. law by forcing American Internet service providers to block domain names of websites believed to be engaging in online piracy, ACTA seeks to implement existing U.S. copyright law in countries where copyright enforcement is less stringent. The Obama administration has argued that ACTA does not require Senate authorization because it’s “technically an executive agreement.”

But U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden wrote a letter to President Barack Obama last fall raising questions about whether it was constitutional for the U.S. trade representative to sign on to the treaty without Senate approval.

Sean Flynn, a professor of intellectual property law at American University, said ACTA is not as “draconian” as the pending U.S. legislation, calling the treaty “SOPA light.” Some of its most troubling measures — such as a requirement that Internet service providers suspend service to customers caught downloading copyrighted works, known as the “three strikes” rule — have been stripped from the agreement, he said.

But other experts argue that ACTA is still problematic. “ACTA contains new potential obligations for Internet intermediaries, requiring them to police the Internet and their users, which in turn pose significant concerns for citizens’ privacy, freedom of expression, and fair use rights,”  Eva Galperin of the Electronic Frontier Foundation wrote in a blog last fall.

Many of those who have supported the U.S. legislation are also backing ACTA, including the Motion Picture Association of America. ACTA is “an important step forward in strengthening international cooperation and enforcement for intellectual property rights,”  said former U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd, chairman of the MPAA, in a statement last fall.

“The same industry rightsholder groups that support the creation of ACTA have also called for mandatory network-level filtering by Internet Service Providers and for Internet Service Providers to terminate citizens’ Internet connection on repeat allegation of copyright infringement (the “Three Strikes” Graduated Response) so there is reason to believe that ACTA will seek to increase intermediary liability and require these things of Internet Service Providers,”  reports the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

ACTA is not the only anti-piracy treaty raising concerns. Some experts fear the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) may include intellectual property measures more restrictive than those in ACTA. But public information about the latter treaty is vague because it is also being negotiated in secret, experts say. “We don’t know what’s in the TPP IP chapter, and that’s what worries us,”  the Electronic Frontier Foundation wrote on its website.

Flynn said the impact of last week’s protests against SOPA and PIPA has forced the world to pay more attention to these copyright treaties. “There have been protests with ACTA, but they’ve never reached this scale,”  said Flynn. “The politics seem to be changing on this issue internationally.”

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Swiss anti-ACTA activists protest the treaty negotiations held in Luzern, Switzerland

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“ACTA contains new potential obligations for Internet intermediaries, requiring them to police the Internet and their users, which in turn poses significant concerns for citizens’ privacy, freedom of expression, and fair use rights.” — Eva Galperin of the Electronic Frontier Foundation

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The Purposes of ACTA

ACTA is a plurilateral trade agreement that proposes international standards for the enforcement of IP law related to the counterfeiting of trademarked goods and the infringement of copyright. Proponents of ACTA claim that increased harmonization of enforcement mechanisms is necessary to prevent the undermining of trade and competitiveness, which they allege will have negative repercussions on economic growth and jobs.

It has further been argued, by entities including the European Commission, that, as an enforcement regime, ACTA does not seek to augment IP rights themselves, but strengthen the enforcement regime for rights that already exist.

Negotiations on ACTA began in 2006 with Japan and the US; followed by Canada, the EU and Switzerland in 2008; and joined more recently by Australia, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, South Korea, Singapore, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. The final text was reached in November 2010.

The text of ACTA was adopted on December 3, 2010 and has now been submitted to the negotiating parties for ratification. To date, the United States, Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore and South Korea have ratified ACTA.

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Transparency in the Drafting Process

The drafting process for ACTA was conducted in secret, and the ACTA committee, tasked with leading the process, has been highly selective with the stakeholders it has chosen to consult with. The Trade Representative for the United States drafted a confidentiality agreement that was signed by all parties and prohibited negotiating states from disclosing information on the negotiations.

There has been no engagement with civil society organizations during the drafting process. Indeed, requests from civil society organizations for information on the ACTA negotiations have been denied in both US and EU freedom of information requests. Even the European Commission has refused to provide drafts of ACTA to the European Parliament

Corporate stakeholders with significant commercial interests in a strengthened international IP enforcement regime were given access to ACTA negotiations. These parties are reported to include Google, IBM, eBay, Dell, Intel, Business Software Alliance, News Corporation, Sony Pictures, Time Warner, the Motion Picture Association of America, and Verizon.

These corporate entities have been given access to information that has not been disclosed to other concerned stakeholders, and have had numerous opportunities to contribute the perspective of the IP industry into negotiations and thereby influence their outcome.

Moreover, this participation has not been subject to public scrutiny, and demonstrates a concerning asymmetry in the ACTA committee’s already opaque policy on stakeholder participation.

The drafting process has also bypassed the established multilateral fora for intellectual trade agreements, including the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). These organizations have established transparency policies that would have prohibited the secret nature of discussions to date.

So far, the negotiations have been conducted only between states that are party to the agreement – to the exclusion of emerging economies such as Brazil, Russia, India and China. Political concerns have been expressed that the ACTA enforcement mechanism may be “exported” to these countries and others through bilateral trade agreements in the future.

 This is potentially problematic from a freedom of expression perspective, particularly if the adoption of more draconian “optional” enforcement provisions is compelled through such negotiations. Brazil reportedly even considered enacting an anti-ACTA statute to prevent the exportation of ACTA enforcement principles through trade agreements.

As a matter of international law, there is disagreement within the United States and between the United States and other ACTA parties whether the agreement is legally enforceable and subject to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties 1969 (VCLT). Article 32 of VCLT requires that where the language of a treaty provision is ambiguous, obscure or manifestly absurd or unreasonable, one should refer to the preparatory work (travaux préparatoires) of the treaty to aid the interpretation of it.

A number of provisions in ACTA are ambiguous, and it would therefore be necessary as a matter of treaty interpretation to have access to the documents that have, to date, been declined following freedom of information requests. Keeping the travaux préparatoires secret is counterproductive to the legal certainty of the document, and may even undermine its credibility and enforceability in the future.

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Read, download, or print out the 25-page official finalized version of the treaty, straight from the Office of the United States Trade Representative, right here at The Dirty Lowdown, by simply clicking on the link below. A PDF reader such as Adobe Reader is required:

Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement

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“The unrestricted flow of information is the lifeblood of any democracy. Public control of government institutions especially depends on truthful accounting of activities conducted in the name of the citizenry.” — Thomas Jefferson

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The under-the-radar PROTECT IP Act of 2011 (PIPA) has been fast-tracked out of committee and is set to be rushed through a Senate vote. PROTECT IP, in case you are wondering, is an acronym for “Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011.”

This bill aims to allow the federal government and interested third parties the power to sieze websites or otherwise restrict or block their access to the web entirely. And this with no warrant or trial required. Any existing website with so much as one copyright-infringing link can find itself falling under the crosshairs. Only Senators Rand Paul, Maria Cantwell, Ron Wyden and Jerry Moran have voiced opposition to the bill. The vote is expected to take place anywhere from the next several days to the next several weeks at the latest.

As it stands, this bill is going to become law very soon. Congressional leaders from both parties and in both chambers support it, and it has backing from big-money campaign donors from unions to Hollywood to financial companies. If we don’t fight back right now, the internet as we know it will be a thing of the past.

There are two existing versions of the Senate bill S. 968: “as introduced”, and “as reported”. Read or download them right here by clicking on the links below. A PDF reader such as Adobe Reader is required. Our file copies were obtained straight from the Government Printing Office and are certified by the Superintendent of Documents and Verisigned.

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 S. 968 Introduced  *****  S. 968 Reported

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