Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement

International treaties threaten consumer rights
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  • Updated:29 Jul 2008

01.The issue

Girl using computer

Behind closed doors, countries like the US, France and Japan have been negotiating a new international Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). The name suggests the treaty will target industrial counterfeiters of brand name accessories and clothing. But in fact those behind it appear to be using it as a backdoor means of limiting ordinary consumer rights to access and use copyrighted media.

You can bet that Australia, while having had little input in the treaty negotiations, will be pressured to sign up to it.

The treaty negotiations are being conducted in secrecy outside normal world intellectual property and consumer forums. What little information is available suggests possible requirements include:

  • Requiring internet providers to monitor users and disconnect possible infringers without independent evidence of wrongdoing.
    Applying criminal penalties to ordinary consumers.
  • Increasing penalties and criminal sentences for infringers that are ridiculously out of proportion with the alleged wrongdoing.
  • Leaked documents suggest customs officers could be made into copyright police with the right to search your bags, laptop or any other portable device for infringing material. While government officials have denied this possibility, they have refused to release the any text of the draft treaty and have admitted that Australia is not at the core of the decision making.

The development of the ACTA treaty has been worryingly one sided. There have been no open invitations to consumer groups to participate in the drafting of the treaty, however, the few released documents show evidence of consultation with the entertainment industries seeking to push anti-consumer policies.

What we want

A healthy digital economy is vital for Australia’s future. While reducing counterfeiting is important, particularly when it endangers consumer health or safety, or constitutes commercial scale infringement, pursuit of that goal should not threaten legitimate commercial, social, innovative and creative activities nor should it threaten the rights of consumers.

The Australia government should not sign up to the ACTA treaty if it harms consumers. International agreements can restrict Australia’s future ability to protect the interests of the community. As community use of technology and the standards that apply develop and change over time, Australia should retain the ability to review laws and implement amendments as necessary.

What we're doing

CHOICE has written a joint submission with the Australian Digital Alliance, Internet Industry Association, and Australian Library and Information Association to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade regarding ACTA negotiations.

CHOICE has also joined with these groups to develop six principles for the Australian government to adopt in negotiating the agreement and provided these to the Minister for Trade and the Department of Foreign Affairs.

More information

CHOICE’s response to earlier industry push for ISP filtering.



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