ACTA negotations continue to be conducted in secrecy, and the European Council is refusing to release key documents to inform the public about what is being negotiated. On the ACTA agenda is a range of measures to control Internet activity, in relation to creative content and e-commerce, with notable targets being peer-to-peer file sharers and eBay.
The European Council has rejected a request to make public documents concerning the secretive negotiations on an Anti-counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). The request, made by the digital rights group Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII) asked for the release of a number of Council documents related to ACTA. The documents are listed on the Council register , but are not public. They include one on 'Civil law measures' and another on the EU's reaction to a US/Japan proposal for civil enforcement measures.
The reason given for the rejection is that
publication would impeded the EU's position in the negotations .In reality, however, it could mean the EU can freely negotiate to give away citizens rights, without anyone looking over its shoulder.
The FFII has sent in a confirmatory application, for the EU Council to review its position, as allowed by Article 7(2) of the regulation dealing with public access to such documents.
ACTA is a G8 initiative, led by the US, with the EU, Canada and Japan taking a leading part. It is significant because it is seeking to establish legal mechanisms for dealing with (among other things) alleged copyright infringement on the Internet, and specifically, peer-to-peer filesharing, but it seeks to do so outside all of the normal policy processes. Thus, there is no opportunity for debate, and measures could be imposed on Internet users, which have been agreed outside of the EU and national Parliaments.
ACTA is important because it will set a strategic framework for online copyright enforcement, and it relates very closely to the measures that could be proposed under the Telecoms Package, which is currently going through the European legislature.
It also deals with allegations of counterfeit goods, and in this instance, it will affect the online auction site eBay, which is being targeted by the industries concerned. It threatens to demolish the small businesses and communities which thrive on eBay, by, for example, attempting to stop the sale of second-hand designer clothes*.
*I can declare a personal interest in this, as I buy, and very occasionally sell, second-hand designer clothes on eBay. It simply puts a real-life meaning onto international law and big business decisions. From personal experience, I know there are small business communities on eBay, and the threats made by some of the trade-mark owners could be very damaging, if they are given any kind of licence to proceed. Not to mention the boost that eBay and other ecommerce activities have given to European post-offices.