We covered the SOPA/PIPA blackout last week pretty thoroughly here at Care2. At first glance, the protest against draconian IP-copyright measures was successful. Led by Wikipedia and joined by a massive number of other creators and website owners, both large and small, the outcry was large enough to cause SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) to be shelved, and PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act) quickly followed.
But that’s just the United States. While the US Congress- and Senate-initiated proposals have been (temporarily) stopped, an international treaty which has the potential to be just as damaging to Internet privacy and free speech has gone comparatively unnoticed.
ACTA (the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) will require IP servers and websites to monitor individual users and prosecute them if suspected of copyright infringements. A major force behind the treaty is the Motion Picture Association of America, and guess what? The United States has already signed it.
For whatever reason, ACTA just hasn’t received the same attention as these other bills. Now with the US already on board for months, Poland having signed just this past week (despite widespread protests across the country), and the European Union signing today, it’s starting to look like a runaway freight train.
Like I said, there hasn’t been much media coverage. But this bill is broader and more comprehensive than either SOPA or PIPA, not only due to its international status, but also in that it covers all kinds of intellectual property, not only digital content. Everything from designer knock-offs to medicine.
Yes, that’s right, medicine. Oxfam International, an aid organization, warned during talks in the summer of 2010 that ACTA “would strengthen and expand monopolies of multinational drug companies in developing countries. In its current form, the Agreement will inhibit generic competition and will have a devastating impact on access to medicines in developing countries.”
I should acknowledge that intellectual property theft is a problem, though the industry heavy-hitters pushing such measures through seem, if anything, the least affected. (Revenues by the MPAA, for example, have only increased.) Certainly, in principle, piracy is not a positive thing. But in practice, ACTA is like bulldozing your garden to get rid of the rabbits.
Perhaps more importantly, whether something is or is not piracy, there needs to be a response which is both proportionate to the problem, and effective in dealing with it. And effectiveness in dealing with piracy doesn’t mean stopping it at all costs. It means stopping (or, realistically, minimizing losses resulting from it) in such a way that the solution doesn’t unleash significantly more damage than the original problem was alleged to do.
Image credit: Stop ACTA!