Secret copyright treaty debated in DC: must-see video

The drive to ram through the secret Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement is ramping up, with the next meeting set for the end of this month in Mexico. ACTA is an unprecedented copyright treaty (unprecedented in that it reaches farther than previous copyright treaties, and that it is being negotiated behind closed doors, without any public input or oversight) that will force copyright policing duties on Internet companies (vastly increasing the cost of hosting "user-generated content"); create new penalties for infringement (including Draconian penalties such as disconnection from the Internet on accusations of infringement); and require countries to search hard-drives, personal media players, and other personal data at their borders.

Last month, Google's DC office hosted a public debate on ACTA, with Steven J. Metalitz, a lawyer and lobbyist representing the International Intellectual Property Alliance; Jamie Love, an activist with Knowledge Ecology International; Jonathan Band, a lawyer representing a coalition of library groups and a variety of tech and Internet companies and Ryan Clough from Silicon Valley Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren's office; moderated by Washington Post consumer technology columnist Rob Pegoraro.

The video runs to 90 minutes. I don't get a lot of 90-minute chunks of time in my life, but I made time for this. It was one of the most spirited — even heated — debates I've heard on the subject, and it got into substantive questions of law, jurisdiction, economics and ethics. It was especially interesting to hear Metalitz, the main mouthpiece for the private corporate interests behind this proposal, attempt to defend both the proposal and the secrecy behind it.

Two recurring points that Metalitz raised were that the secrecy in the treaty was a requirement of foreign negotiating partners, and the US's hands were tied; and that the treaty wouldn't require any of the "advanced" nations to change their law (he repeated the oft-heard unfounded slur that Canada is a rogue nation when it comes to copyright law).

Both of these points are simply wrong. The country demanding that ACTA be kept secret is the good old US of A, whose strategy for this is being driven by former entertainment industry lawyers who have found new homes as senior officials in the Obama government (the Democrats are terrible on copyright, sadly — we can thank Bill Clinton for the Digital Millennium Copyright Act). These lawyers are Metalitz's old pals, his colleagues in the decades he's spent winning special privileges and public subsidy for his rich clients.

Even more ridiculous is the claim that ACTA won't require any changes to law (if that was true, why bother with it?). As the EU's Commissioner-designate for the Internal Market stated, ACTA will trump the democratic law made by elected governments, requiring changes that are created in smoke-filled rooms that only corporate bigwigs get access to.

ACTA is a profoundly undemocratic undertaking, as is amply demonstrated in the debate in this video. K-street lobbyists, corporate execs, and other movers and shakers know everything that's going on in the ACTA negotiations, but the public is frozen out of the debate. And as Jamie Love points out, public access to other copyright negotiations — such as those at WIPO — have fundamentally changed their directions, because the public doesn't want expensive gags and handcuffs put on the Internet in order to bolster the entertainment industry's profits.

Watch this video. It may be the most productive 90 minutes you spend today.

Google D.C. Talk: ACTA – The Global Treaty That Could Reshape The Internet

(via Michael Geist)