ACTA threatens free software

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ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, is a proposed enforcement treaty between United States, the European Community, Switzerland, Japan, Australia, the Republic of Korea, Mexico and New Zealand, with Canada set to join in the near future.

Although the proposed treaty’s title suggests that the agreement deals only with counterfeit physical goods (such as medicines), what little information has been made available publicly by negotiating governments about the content of the treaty makes it clear that it will have a far broader scope, and in particular, will deal with new tools targeting “Internet distribution and information technology”. www.fsf.org/campaigns/acta

This agreement makes it more difficult to distribute free software. Without file sharing and P2P technologies like BitTorrent, distributing large amounts of free software becomes much harder, and more expensive. BitTorrent is a grassroots protocol that allows everyone to contribute to legally distributing free software.

It will make it harder for users of free operating systems to play media. Consumers will no longer be able to buy media without DRM — and DRMed media cannot be played with free software.

To date, disturbingly little information has been released about the actual content of the agreement. However, despite that, it is clearly on a fast track; treaty proponents want it completed by the end of 2008.

Many civil rights groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation oppose ACTA, calling for more public spotlight on the proposed treaty. A British study found that iPods owned by persons 14-24 today contain an average of more than 840 tracks downloaded on file-sharing networks, nearly fifty percent of all music possessed by this segment. The same study also found that 95% of individuals falling under this category have copied music in some way.Some critics argue that the ACTA directly incriminates the ordinary consumer activity.

I found an excellent article on the Knowledge Ecology Studies website written by Aaron Shaw. Its all about ACTA and what we can do about it.

ACTA would create unduly harsh legal standards that do not reflect contemporary principles of democratic government, free market exchange, or civil liberties. Even though the precise terms of ACTA remain undecided, the negotiants’ preliminary documents reveal many troubling aspects of the proposed agreement. For example, ACTA advocates intend to further criminalize non-commercial copyright and trademark infringements. They also aim to reinforce so-called “Digital Rights Management” (DRM) technologies that currently prevent the personal, legal reproduction of optical discs like DVDs and trample on “fair use” rights. In addition, rights owner lobby groups want the agreement to undermine legal safeguards that protect Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from liability for the actions of their subscribers. It would also facilitate privacy violations by trademark and copyright holders against private citizens suspected of infringement activities without any sort of legal due process.

All of these provisions threaten to reach far beyond existing U.S. and E.U. legal norms without any mandate from the appropriate, elected legislative bodies that govern them. As such, the trade officials involved in ACTA negotiations demonstrate a surprising disregard for their own countries’ democratic political processes and public welfare. They also threaten to overturn the existing balance of rights and regulations established through global governance institutions.

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