Corporate entertainment continues its long-fought campaign to make enhance its long-term profit outlook by making criminals out of everyday citizens. Under a current international treaty being debated by the U.S., the EU, Japan, Canada, Australia, Japan and New Zealand, internet service providers could become copyright cops encouraged to block access to suspected pirate Web sites, according to a previously secret document released to the public.
One section of the proposed digital copyright treaty (the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, or ACTA) says that immunity from lawsuits would be granted to Internet providers "disabling access" to pirated material and adopting a policy dealing with unauthorized "transmission of materials protected by copyright." If the ISPs choose not to do so, they could face legal liability.
Both the Obama administration and the Bush administration had previously taken steps to keep secret all draft copies of the ACTA while it was being debated by participating nations. Last year, the White House went so far as to invoke an executive order saying disclosure would do "damage to the national security." Thank god for the European Union, which published the current draft text of ACTA on its web site this week.
The current ACTA proposal would take the most controversial parts of U.S. copyright law and apply them to the rest of the world. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act's "anti-circumvention" section, which makes it illegal to bypass copy protection even to back up a Blu-Ray disc, is in the proposal. So is the No Electronic Theft Act's concept of making it a crime to copy a sufficient quantity of software, music, or videos -- even if no money changes hands.
The proposal would also make it possible for border guards to search travelers' electronic gadgetry for infringing files-- something which has been harshly criticized by groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge, which have criticized the draft treaty.
The U.S. Trade Representative said in a statement last week that recent ACTA negotiations in New Zealand were "constructive." The next meeting is in Switzerland in June.