How ACTA will change the world's internet laws

Since the text of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (a secret copyright treaty being negotiated by a members' club of rich countries, out of sight of the United Nations) leaked, scholars and public interest groups have been poring over its clauses. Here are two alarming pieces of research explaining just how bad this really is:

First, Knowledge Ecology International analyzes the Provisions on Injunctions and Damages. They conclude that ACTA goes way, way beyond the TRIPS (the copyright/patent/trademark stuff in the World Trade Organization agreement), creating an entirely new realm of liability for people who provide services on the net. Since liability for service-providers determines what kind of services we get, increasing their liability for copyright infringement will make it harder to invent new tools like web-lockers, online video-hosting services, blogging services, and anything else that's capable of being used to infringe copyright.

This matters because various governments, including the EU, Canada, and the USA, have argued that there is nothing in ACTA that will change domestic law -- that it's just a way of forcing everyone else to adopt their own laws. What we see here, though, is a radical rewriting of the world's Internet laws, taking place in secret, without public input. Public input? Hell, even Members of Parliament and Congressmembers don't get a say in this. The Obama administration's trade rep says that the US will sign onto ACTA without Congressional debate, under an administrative decree.

Next is Public Knowledge's Sherwin Sly, with a broad look at what ACTA says and what it means:

But the potential effects of ACTA go beyond merely nudging interpretations of U.S. law in a new direction. Acceding to a new international agreement would hamper attempts to amend some of the flaws in our current law, locking us into a system that already has apparent flaws. ACTA's effects on the laws of other countries should also be taken into account, as we want to ensure that IP laws don't unduly hamper the free speech of other countries' citizens, or, to take a more commercial tack, that IP laws don't subject US technology companies, like the makers of digital recording devices or hosting websites, to overbroad copyright liability.

(via Michael Geist)