Things aren’t going anywhere near as well as major copyright corporations had hoped. After facing a major defeat in Europe as well as facing extra scrutiny from other countries, ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) is not exactly looking like the copyright flagship that would usher in new unprecedented copyright laws. Now, looking at what is cropping up really gives us the impression that not all is well in the corporate camp right now.
Major corporate interests had high hopes for ACTA. While it was initially dialed down to exclude the three strikes law, many provisions remained that caused critics to be in an uproar. In retrospect, it’s pretty easy to see the plan in the grand scheme of things: Push ACTA on a whole lot of countries, then ask for more a year or so down the road through either CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) and TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership). Of course, since ACTA was, compared to the other two agreements that have been floating around, relatively mild, there would be no problem getting countries around the world to just adopt it.
Then again, maybe not.
After a massive protest in Europe, ACTA was overwhelmingly shot down in Europe. The uproar has, in part, brought considerable focus to these secret agreemments to the public at large and that awareness turned many people into activists who are fiercely opposed to these agreements. Europe may have been seen as a launching pad to pressure other countries into following suit, but now, it has become a major obstacle for convincing other countries to ratify the agreement.
Indeed, almost no one is arguing that the European defeat of ACTA won’t have an effect on its likelihood of being ratified in other countries. After all, Australia is already showing signs of discontent with the agreement. More recently, New Zealand has opened a public consultation to help the government decide whether or not to ratify the agreement.
Still, one country signing with many other countries growing wary of the agreement is not good news for the multi-national corporations hoping to find clever ways of curtailing the Internet. In fact, I would argue that because so much was riding on Europe simply ratifying ACTA without asking questions, ACTA and future agreements may have suffered from too many eggs being placed in one basket. If ACTA was ratified in Europe, other countries would follow suit, then the next agreements in the pipeline would further restrict the Internet. Since Europe would have passed ACTA, the TPP would just require about as much effort. Then, with TPP getting passed in Europe, every other country would follow suit. Lather, rinse, repeat until all the laws the major corporations wanted are reality. With the fall of ACTA in Europe, the whole grand plan was thrown into compete disarray. Since ACTA was rejected in Europe, what are the chances CETA would be passed? What could possibly be the chances of the much more restrictive TPP now? You can almost picture some overweight CEO having a heart attack with thoughts like this going through his or her mind. Indeed, negotiators for the TPP are reportedly adding in consumer protections to the TPP. In addition, officials are already trying to distance themselves from the ACTA provisions and quickly denying the possibility that the ACTA provisions are in CETA. Public scrutiny? Officials and negotiators back-pedaling? Politicians actually listening to their own citizens? How on Earth was all this part of the grand plan with these secret agreements?
This whole idea of major copyright lobby’s panicking over all of this isn’t pure speculation either. IP-Watch has an interesting post on the reaction of major corporate interests:
At a little-publicised annual meeting of the Transatlantic Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Working Group in Brussels this week representatives of the European Commission, several United States agencies and rights holder agreed that there might be tough times ahead for IPRs and rights holders. Meanwhile, the Commission is under pressure on copyright exceptions for visually impaired readers on the eve of a World Intellectual Property Organization meeting. And the Commission this week introduced new rules on collective societies aimed at easing user access to content.
Where IP rights once was a field for experts, now it drives the masses to the streets, the European Commission said referring to recent protests against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). Without a much stronger commitment from rights holders, the rejection of ACTA would just be the beginning, Commission representatives said according to observers.
George York, deputy assistant to the US Trade Representative for IP and Innovation, and Susan Wilson, director of the Office of Intellectual Property Rights in the US Department of Commerce, confirmed during the meeting that despite ACTA’s failure in the EU, the ratification process would go on in the US, despite concerns by some experts about potential inconsistencies with US laws. The EU Commission confirmed its determination to wait for the European Court of Justice’s ruling on ACTA before deciding on next steps for the treaty voted down by Parliament earlier this month.
There seems to be little appetite in the administrations of either side to reconsider ACTA and potential problems with the treaty, David Hammerstein, former Green Party Parliament member and now adviser to the Trans-Atlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD), told Intellectual Property Watch.
Jean-Luc Demarty, the director general of the Trade Directorate of the European Commission, said at the meeting with regard to question of a potential split of counterfeiting and copyright piracy, IPR could not just be for bags and t-shirts.
Of course, this report was from last week. Was this just a one off incident? Not really. Just recently, ZeroPaid has obtained an e-mail from the US Chamber detailing a meeting scheduled for tomorrow. From that e-mail:
Tomorrow, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Intellectual Property Center will provide testimony at the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Hearing on “Unfair Trading Practices Against the U.S.: Intellectual Property Rights Infringement, Property Expropriation, and other Barriers.”
The GIPC’s President and CEO, David Hirschmann, will highlight the challenges to intellectual property protection and enforcement abroad and outline opportunities for Congress to booster efforts to protect IP.
The e-mail also linked to a US Foreign Affairs government webpage which also says this:
The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs will hold a hearing on Thursday, July 19 titled “Unfair Trading Practices Against the U.S.: Intellectual Property Rights Infringement, Property Expropriation, and other Barriers.” Intellectual property theft, expropriation of property and subsidies, and other practices grant foreign goods unfair advantages over U.S. products, and harm the ability of U.S. businesses to compete globally. The Committee will review the negative impact of trade barriers imposed against the U.S and possible solutions to combat them.
Nothing about this suggests that major multi-national corporations are in complete control of the situation. Since this discusses international enforcement of copyright, what else could it be other than discussing ACTA and related topics? I’d say all these are signs that corporations like the major record labels are beginning to panic and are scrambling to desperately formulate a plan “B” after the fact.
While it’ll be interesting to see what comes out of the meeting later today, it’s quite easy to come to the conclusion that something is going on here.