iTnews | Apr 13, 2010
Q & ACTA, with Michael Geist
A brief chat with a global expert on the ACTA treaty.
By Juha Saarinen
With the Wellington round of the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) talks underway, organised opposition to the proposed treaty on intellectual property rights and enforcement is also gathering in the New Zealand capital.
Long-standing ACTA critic Dr Michael Geist from Canada is also in Wellington, and iTnews.com.au caught up with him there and asked him a few questions on the proposed treaty and what it means for all of us.
iTnews: If you had to explain ACTA to the person in the street, what would you say?
Michael Geist: "ACTA if introduced will fundamentally alter intellectual property laws. It is IP reform via the backdoor."
Geist said he would also point to proposals such as the introduction of statutory damages for non-commercial copyright infringement and the possibility that ISPs may be forced to cut off customers and/or monitor their activities on the Internet.
iTnews: Those are pretty serious issues. Why is there such apathy around ACTA then?
Geist: "I don’t think the public is apathetic about ACTA. There is growing awareness as to the treaty and its consequences."
Geist said the lack of awareness around ACTA’s far-reaching proposals is an intentional strategy by the governments involved in the talks and a result of the negotiations being conducted in secrecy.
iTnews: What about businesses? Is there any benefit to them from ACTA?
Geist: "There are no benefits to business from ACTA, only huge negatives."
Geist said small to medium-sized enterprises that are even more cost-conscious than individuals face increased costs under ACTA for access to information.
iTnews: Which countries will be the most affected by ACTA?
Geist: "Of the nations involved in the talks, Canada and New Zealand are the two countries most affected by the ACTA proposals, at least in the short term. "
Geist said that the two largest developing economies in the world, India and China, are expressly excluded from the ACTA talks, as is Brazil - which tried to join the negotiations as it didn’t want to be left out.
He said the countries now in the ACTA negotiations are essentially a US-led "Coalition of the willing" Some, like Australia, already have a Free Trade Agreement with the US, but for others like New Zealand, obtaining such a deal is very much in the background of the negotiations.
iTnews: But if this is such an unpalatable treaty for at least some of the countries, why don’t they just walk away from the negotiations?
Geist: "It’s difficult to leave negotiations once you have invested the time and effort to take part in them - and sometimes you take part because you feel you have to, without wanting to validate the negotiations in question."
Geist said that Canada, for example, is party to the ACTA talks because it feels it’s better to be on the inside, trying to influence the discussions rather than staying out and not having a say.
iTnews: Will the Wellington talks result in anything different?
Geist: "The Wellington round is a unique event in the ACTA process. It’s the first time the talks are tied to events to raise awareness such as the PublicACTA conference."
Geist said he hopes the main outcome of the Wellington ACTA talks will be greater transparency around the process. Where New Zealand and the EU bloc have called for transparency, the United States is "at the top of the list" of countries opposing transparency for the ACTA talks, followed by Singapore and South Korea.
iTnews: What needs to happen with the ACTA?
Geist: "Leaks are not good enough - the full texts of the ACTA proposals must be published so that they can be debated in the open."
Geist explained that so far, the only information the public has had on ACTA has been through leaked documents, but he does not consider this the path to greater clarity around the treaty. The European Parliament has already demanded that the full text of the ACTA proposals is published, and Geist hopes this will encourage other nations to follow suit.