ACTA draft draws cautious welcome

Posted by Emma Woollacott

A '99 percent complete' version of the proposed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) has been released, in an effort to reach accord on how to stop the global trade in pirated goods.

And internet service providers are breathing a sign of relief, as the draft does not specifically hold them responsible for copyright infringement by their users. Instead, it says they must 'take effective action' when infringement is discovered.

"This text reflects tremendous progress in the fight against counterfeiting and piracy — a global crime wave that robs workers in the United States and around the world of good-paying jobs and exposes consumers to dangerous products," said US trade representative Ron Kirk.

"We must now work quickly with our partners to finalize the results achieved in the Tokyo. This work represents a significant victory for those who care about protecting and enforcing intellectual property rights."

Nevertheless, the US tech industry is still concerned.

"Removing secondary liability was an important step. Creating broad new categories of liability for legitimate businesses not engaged in piracy was never an appropriate subject for an IP enforcement agreement. It would have been such a significant legal change, that it would have heightened calls for legislative review by Congress, the European Parliament and others who now may not have the ability to review and approve ACTA," says Matt Schruers, senior counsel of the Computer and Communications Industry Association.

"We remain concerned that the agreement permits limitations and exceptions, but doesn't require them. Thus, a US Internet or technology business depending upon certain exceptions to copyright (including fair use) has no certainty in foreign markets as to whether or not they could be liable for business models permitted and encouraged by US law."

The deal has been three years in the making, and covers everything from online piracy to fake designer goods. It's been widely opposed in Europe, where it's been seen as an attempt by the US to enforce its own views on copyright on the rest of the world. And with China - counterfeiting capital of the world - missing from the list of signatories, there's concern that it will in any case fall short of its objectives.