EU draft anti-counterfeiting deal threatens free speech, health and safety, say critics

The US, Europe and other countries have been negotiating the agreement in secret for the past two years.

Acta aims to stop trade in counterfeit goods, as well as piracy of intellectual property such as music, film, videos and software. Sponsored largely by Hollywood and the music industry, the Obama administration once said the substance of the negotiations was a national secret.

The text aims to get principles of the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act written into international law. It includes "special measures related to technological enforcement of intellectual property in the digital environment". These include "technical measures" such as bandwidth reduction, blocking and account termination of alleged infringing internet users.

However, the text clearly calls for internet service providers to police copyright infringers by filtering their traffic and removing infringing material. Critics say this might affect material that is naturally available under "fair use" terms, as well as material whose owner is unknown.

Many of the procedures and penalties sought in Acta are the same as those sought by the music industry in the run-up to the Digital Economy Act, which was rammed through the UK parliament just before it rose for the election.

Digital lobby group La Quadrature du Net said publication of the text did not legitimise it. "Transparency is no excuse for political laundering and the circumvention of democratic processes", it said in a statement.

La Quadrature co-founder Jérémie Zimmermann said leaks (first published on whistleblower website Wikileaks) had shown that Acta could "dangerously hinder" freedom of expression, access to medicines and innovation throughout the world.

"This official release suggests that it is still the case. We must firmly refuse that unelected officials devise policies that have an impact on such critical societal issues", he said.

Open Rights Group campaigner Florian Leppla said the publication did not reveal the negotiating positions of individual countries.

"We won't know who is pushing for the most dangerous enforcement policies", he said. "What we need now is an open process that allows consumer and citizens groups to influence what is in the document."

He said Open Rights Group would work with other consumer and civil rights groups such as Consumer Focus, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and La Quadrature du Net to analyse the text and plan further moves.

Acta aims to stop trade in counterfeit goods, as well as piracy of intellectual property such as music, film, videos and software.

This article was first published by Computer Weekly

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