Geist on copyright vs. fundamental rights
Various international efforts are currently in the works to lock down the Internet, but University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist reports that the global pro-Internet movement made some gains last week on the Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA).
ACTA is an international copyright enforcement treaty, primarily lobbied for by big industry in Europe and the U.S. According to the EFF, ACTA is concerning for a whole host of reasons. It threatens civil liberties and privacy as deep packet inspection will likely be used to spot copyright infringement. It limits innovation by restricting the free flow of information and is a problem for legitimate commerce. And it forces developing countries to implement policies that may not suit their domestic priorities and level of economic development.
A final vote on the treaty is not expected from the European Parliament until July, but recent events suggest that the anti-ACTA movement is posing a serious challenge to the secretive agreement.
Canadians have been among those speaking out against the Internet Lockdown, and while the anti-ACTA movement seems to be making gains in Europe, we still need your help to combat it, as well as other challenges to the freedom of the Internet. Say no to the Internet lockdown »
You can read Geist’s blog post here, or read our summary below:
Geist begins by explaining how two weeks ago the Dutch parliament struck a blow against secretive international copyright agreements by voting against ratifying ACTA. Some are suggesting that this vote could kill ACTA in Europe. The controversial treaty faced further opposition a few days later when three European Parliamentary Committees also voted against implementing ACTA.
Geist then gives some historical context for this decision, outlining a longstanding global pushback against these types of agreements. The Dutch vote was important, but what is really interesting is its resolution that it would not support any future trade agreements that are similar to ACTA (for example the TPP, which we’ve written about here). The resolution states that strict enforcement of copyright online “is no solution for the ongoing difficulties regarding copyright law and interferes with internet freedom”.
Several countries have noted similar concerns about including copyright in international trade agreements (which then dictate national law, to the benefit of Big Media). Geist points out how in December 2010, an Australian group produced a report stating that it did not believe that the inclusion of copyright in these types of agreements was beneficial. In fact the report thought that these copyright protections actually imposed costs on Australia and its trading partners, “principally to the benefit of third parties” (like American media lobbyists).
Geist notes that similar concerns were expressed in New Zealand also in December 2010, in a leaked government document. The document highlighted the fact that the treaty’s demands for stronger levels of international copyright protection plus a larger coverage of issues meant that nations have little ability to choose the policy options that best suit their economic situation, and that these international norms were designed to benefit rights holders:
While there may be good arguments for an early and more rapid development of international solutions, such approach bears the risk of being premature, lacking evidence at the national level that would suggest a desirable international norm.
These criticisms have been raised in Canada as well. Geist notes that last year a Canadian Committee called on the government to ensure that copyright policy would not be part of any international trade agreement, and that it “retains the right to maintain domestic copyright policies that have been developed within the framework of its commitments to [existing intellectual property agreements]”.
In conclusion, Geist notes the opposing moves that have also been made in the US, Mexico, and Switzerland, and that this backlash is a result of countries’ recognition that the copyright rules within international trade agreements frequently do not serve their national interest.