ACTA: The copyright treaty that won’t die

This week’s On the Media has an excellent 4-minute segment on ACTA featuring Harvard Law Professor Jonathan Zittrain.

ACTA? Isn’t that long gone?

Well, yes. Back on July 4, the European Parliament voted ACTA down, leading to a flurry of reports like this one from Wired’s UK Site:

Acta la vista, baby! European Parliament rejects controversial trade agreement

The European Parliament has rejected the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (Acta) by a vote of 478 to 39, which means that it cannot become law in the EU. This is the first time that the Parliament has exercised its Lisbon Treaty power to reject an international trade agreement.

Acta was a proposed international agreement that aimed to create international standards on intellectual property rights enforcement. Critics likened it to the Stop Online Piracy Act (Sopa), and argued that it would stifle freedom of expression on the internet, brand individual file-sharers in the EU as criminals, and introduce disproportionately harsh sanctions for breaches of copyright.

Google the phrase “ACTA is dead” and you’ll find nearly 200,000 hits. Hasn’t rigor mortis set in by now?

Well, there’s dead and there’s undead. Zittrain observes that the ACTA corpse has become a grisly organ donor, “with various constituent parts of it able to be sewn on to other creatures”. OTM co-host Brooke Gladstone listed some of the recipients of ACTA DNA: SOPA, PIPA, TPP, and CETA. That last one, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, is currently under secret negotiation between Canada and Europe.

The key word here is “secret”, and that’s Zittrain’s main concern:

We don’t know what’s in it until it suddenly is dropped upon everybody for ratification. … It’s the attempt to do this without the best disinfectant, which is sunshine. And if there is the sunshine and you have a process that’s more open you really will have geeks who are keeping an eye on things, they’ll raise the alarm if they see something that worries them, there’ll be a discussion about it, we’ll see if people are rallied about it, and that’s how you do things in a democracy.

Well, that’s how you do things in a democracy if you want to use the democratic process. But the motivation behind all of these initiatives is not to follow the popular will, but to prop up the business model of the content industry. This is a business model based on monopoly and artificial scarcity that is untenable in a digital world and undermines the reason U.S. copyright law exists. Without rescue by law or treaty, the legacy industry is doomed, so it should come as no surprise that the undead keep haunting us. And, as Zittrain says, “You can get fatigued, you can get exhausted again and again trying to beat this back in every form.”

But remember: Vampires hate sunshine.


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