Global Anti-Piracy Treaty – Pretty Worrying

Copyright Criminal
Creative Commons License photo: amidanyorai

If you haven’t already read about this, the new G8 Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) may peak your interest. It’s an international law so it’ll affect people around the world. ComputerWeekly has an article.

If agreed and implemented, the framework will give law enforcement officials new powers to enter and search premises and to confiscate goods that infringe copyright.

Critics believe this could extend officials’ powers, enabling them to seize and search laptops and iPods for illegal downloads.

And according to New Scientist (subscription required):

The proposed treaty has progressed with remarkable speed by the standards of international law. Quietly proposed by the Bush administration in September 2007, it quickly gathered support from the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, Switzerland and Mexico.

ACTA would make it illegal not just to share copyrighted material, but to operate websites that index the locations of such material that people can download. It would also outlaw systems like BitTorrent or Gnutella that help users find files on “peer-to-peer” (P2P) networks of computers.

When the move was first mooted last November, French president Nicolas Sarkozy dubbed it “a decisive moment for the future of a civilised internet”.

Pirates in tawny waters
Creative Commons License photo: jmpznz

Now I’m a firm believer in intellectual property rights and fighting piracy. As an economist, I know that these laws are very important for technological progress and the economic well being of the whole country. In fact, some people argue that without them the Industrial Revolution would have never happened. So in principle, anything to protect property rights is a good piece of legislation.

However, from what I’ve seen of ACTA, it appears that it has some big impacts on our freedom. ACTA makes it illegal to operate websites that point people towards the downloads of illegal material. Does this mean Google won’t be allowed to operate? What about my own site – I don’t knowingly link to anything which is illegal or copyrighted but since I allow comments from readers, there is no way I can ensure that comments don’t link to copyrighted material. Am I ultimately responsible?

I believe the right to link is one of the fundamental freedoms of the internet and this law could be dangerous. And if P2P software such as BitTorrent would be considered illegal, why wouldn’t FTP and HTTP?

I’m also worried about this law making it illegal to download copyrighted material. ACTA means ISPs can disconnect people from the internet for downloading copyrighted material. Seeing as we now do more and more things on the internet – run businesses, set up social events, do our grocery shopping – it’s a big threat.

radio debian
Creative Commons License photo: aloshbennett

How can one be sure that a website is properly licensed to use copyrighted material? Are the internet radio stations we listen to licensed? Well, they say they are. But then AllOfMP3 said they were and they’ve been closed down.

The effect of this is that people won’t get their music or films from any of the small retailers – only from the big names such as Amazon and MSN that they trust. It’s harmful to competition, and that’s bad news for the economy.

Certainly something to keep an eye on and we need some public debate.

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