The internet chapter of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, a secret copyright treaty whose text Obama’s administration refused to disclose due to “national security” concerns, has leaked. And It’s bad, It says:
* That ISPs have to proactively police copyright on user-contributed material. This means that it will be impossible to run a service like Flickr or YouTube or Blogger, since hiring enough lawyers to ensure that the mountain of material uploaded every second isn’t infringing will exceed any hope of profitability.
* That ISPs have to cut off the Internet access of accused copyright infringers or face liability. This means that your entire family could be denied to the internet — and hence to civic participation, health information, education, communications, and their means of earning a living — if one member is accused of copyright infringement, without access to a trial or counsel.
* That the whole world must adopt US-style “notice-and-takedown” rules that require ISPs to remove any material that is accused — again, without evidence or trial — of infringing copyright. This has proved a disaster in the US and other countries, where it provides an easy means of censoring material, just by accusing it of infringing copyright.
* Mandatory prohibitions on breaking DRM, even if doing so for a lawful purpose (e.g., to make a work available to disabled people; for archival preservation; because you own the copyrighted work that is locked up with DRM)
Negotiations on the highly controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement start in a few hours in Seoul, South Korea. This week’s closed negotiations will focus on “enforcement in the digital environment.” Negotiators will be discussing the Internet provisions drafted by the US government. No text has been officially released but as Professor Michael Geist and IDG are reporting, leaks have surfaced. The leaks confirm everything that we feared about the secret ACTA negotiations. The Internet provisions have nothing to do with addressing counterfeit products, but are all about imposing a set of copyright industry demands on the global Internet, including obligations on ISPs to adopt Three Strikes Internet disconnection policies, and a global expansion of DMCA-style TPM laws.
As expected, the Internet provisions will go beyond existing international treaty obligations and follow the language of Article 18.10.30 of the recent U.S. – South Korea Free Trade Agreement. We see three points of concern.
First, according to the leaks, ACTA member countries will be required to provide for third-party (Internet Intermediary) liability. This is not required by any of the major international IP treaties – not by the 1994 Trade Related Aspects of IP agreement, nor the WIPO Copyright and WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty. However, US copyright owners have long sought this. (For instance, see page 19 of the Industry Functional Advisory Committee report on the 2003 US- Singapore Free Trade Agreement noting the need for introducing a system of ISP liability). (Previously available at http://www.ustr.gov/new/fta/Singapore/advisor_reports.htm.)
Second and more importantly, ACTA will include some limitations on Internet Intermediary liability. Many ACTA negotiating countries already have these regimes in place: the US, EU, Australia, Japan, South Korea. To get the benefit of the ACTA safe harbors, Internet intermediaries will need to follow notice and takedown regimes, and put in place policies to deter unauthorized storage and transmission of allegedly copyright infringing content.
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