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How far will ISPs be held liable for infringement of intellectual property rights under ACTA? On close examination in the EU context, we also come up against another question: is ACTA re-writing the weak "compromise" on Internet users rights that was rejected by the European Parliament in the Telecoms Package?


 In previous drafts of ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement), liability for ISPs in enforcing copyright on the Internet was clearly stated. In the latest leaked draft of 25 August 2010, it appears to have been deleted. At least the substantive text   requiring countries to implement a liability provision is  not there.


However, there has been quite a re-write of the substantive text regarding the Internet, and a closer look at it would indicate that liability remains there, it has just been a little bit obscured. Moreover, the new text in ACTA is  arguably  a reflection of

the weak so-called "compromise" which was rejected by the European Parliament in the second reading of the Telecoms Package.


We have seen in Europe how the policy-makers, backed up by rights-holder lobbying, can become very skilled at altering wording to obscure their real intentions. We have also seen how they attempt to insert lip-service to users' rights, but in fact create a provision which means the opposite.


As explained by  Sean Flynn of the American University Washington  College of Law , the latest ACTA leaked draft  has deleted the explicit wording on ISP secondary  liability in the text, which  was previously  in sections 2 and 3 from Article 2.18. That change also removes the requirement for a US-style "safe harbor"  system. 


This explicit wording on liability has been replaced by a text which is vague and obscure.  ACTA  now specifies that IP enforcement procedures "shall provide the means to address the  infringement of rights in the digital environment, including infringement that occurs via technologies (or services) that can be used to facilitate widespread infringement"


Checking the footnotes very carefully, it states:  Examples ( of the technologies or services that can be used to facilitate widespread infringement) may include unlawful file sharing and unlawful streaming).  


Thus, it is quite clear that this provision is intended to create measures against P2P  - and also against streaming services.  Such measures would include 3-strikes.  ‘Unlawful streaming' could surely be used by rights-holders in their legal fights against Google YouTube.


The controversial Article 3quarter has been replaced by a new provision which  talks about  promoting "cooperative efforts"  which should be taken ‘within  the business community' to address infringement' . ‘Cooperative efforts' reprises the Telecoms Package language of ‘co-operation' between rights holders and ISPs for the purposes of enforcing copyright. Paraphrasing, the ‘co-operative efforts' are intended to get the ISPs to  take ‘effective action against' peer-to-peer and  web streaming services. Such ‘effective action' could take a number of forms, one of which could be  a graduated response/3-strikes regime.


But here's the rub. The new provisions 2 and 3 both  incorporate the words: "preserve  principles relating to freedom of expression, fair process, and privacy [EU: , among other [US: fundamental] principles". This is the phraseology which reminds me of the weak compromise in the Second Reading of the Telecoms Package, which the European Parliament rejected.


Other fundamental principles' are defined in a footnote which states that they could include: . "adopting or maintaining a regime providing for limitations on the liability of, or on the remedies available against, online service providers while [US: respecting ][EU: taking into account] the legitimate interests of rightholders. "  


If one breaks this paragraph apart and considers carefully the individual elements, one can re-phrase it:   a regime which  maintains limitations on the liability of - and remedies against - ISPs;   and which at the same time takes  account of the interests of the rights-holders to enforce copyright.   


Such a regime is graduated response.


Does this text then really alter the meaning of the provision for imposing liability for copyright infringement onto ISPs?  It would seem to me, that on the contrary, it is  attempting to build  such liability into the law as a fundamental principle. No such principle currently exists in EU law.


The inclusion freedom of expression and fair process  would appear to be mere lip-service to fundamental rights. It is not clear what  'fair process' could mean  under EU law. Moreover, it will weaken the provision in the Telecoms Package which is current  EU law.   

As we know from the Telecoms Package debates, measures such as 3-strikes represent a very real threat to the rights and freedoms  of Internet users. The ACTA text  is a very poor show for the Commission which is Guardian of the Treaties and of our fundamental rights.


As pointed out by Philippe Aigrain, of La Quadrature du Net :   "The attacks on freedoms may become less visible in the final agreement, but they will be no less present."




Notes on some of the non-Internet  aspects of the 25 August 2010 version of ACTA are available  from KEI Online

 For the full story of the Telecoms Package, see my book The Copyright Enforcement Enigma: Internet politics and the Telecoms Package

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 This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial-Share Alike 2.5 UK:England and Wales License. It may be used for non-commercial purposes only, and the author's name should be attributed. The correct attribution for this article is: Monica Horten (2010) ACTA serves up a rejected Telecoms Package clause 1


Iptegrity in brief is the website of Dr Monica Horten. I’ve been analysing analysing digital policy since 2008. Way back then, I identified how issues around rights can influence Internet policy, and that has been a thread throughout all of my research. I hold a PhD in EU Communications Policy from the University of Westminster (2010), and a Post-graduate diploma in marketing.   I’ve served as an independent expert on the Council of Europe  Committee on Internet Freedoms, and was involved in a capacity building project in Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine. I am currently (from June 2022)  Policy Manager - Freedom of Expression, with the Open Rights Group. For more, see About Iptegrity is made available free of charge for  non-commercial use, Please link-back & attribute Monica Horten. Thank you for respecting this.

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