If, as multi-millionaire business magnate Mark Getty famously claimed, ‘intellectual property is the oil of the 21st century’, then the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) smacks of a covert operation in a new war. An operation whose purpose is to benefit corporate power. The whole thing has been negotiated in secret between rich countries in a policy-laundering scheme designed to avoid the meddlesome interference of democratic debate, transparency or dissent.

On the face of it, ACTA addresses some rather dull and technical areas of international trade. But if it comes into force it will require Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to spy on their customers, introduce the potential for internet censorship at the behest of the ‘entertainment’ industry, and threaten the access of people in the Majority World to life-saving generic medicines.

The provisions within the agreement are similar to the recent SOPA/PIPA legislation proposed in the US and dropped (in its current form) after the unprecedented internet blackout of 18 January, when Wikipedia closed down for the day and thousands of other sites blacked out parts of their content to highlight the dangers of introducing de facto powers of online censorship with no due process. In some ways, ACTA goes even further, ‘imposing a 19th-century view of intellectual property (IP) that fails to acknowledge the changed relationship between individuals and information in the modern electronic age,’ says campaigning group Article 19. ‘Consequently, the IP interests of corporations are disproportionately protected, at the expense of individuals’ rights to freedom of expression and information.’

Among the worrying clauses in the legislation are provisions for people to be punished even if they use copyrighted material accidentally or unintentionally. Website owners and ISPs will be expected to police the legislation, meaning that they are likely to invade their users’ privacy more often and more seriously, and also leading to a para-judicial selfcensorship, with content taken down simply because the ISP or website owner is worried that it may infringe copyright, without having to prove that it does. In practice, that might mean Facebook closing your account because you share a photo that you saw in the paper.

ACTA will also reduce access to generic medicine for people in poor countries. ‘Negotiating countries are cynically using legitimate fears of counterfeit medicines to exert greater control over the trade in generic medicines to poor countries,’ says Oxfam spokesperson Rohit Malpani. ‘ACTA is proposing a new, expanded framework of IP protections on behalf of multinational drug companies, which will be combined with border measures to stifle the trade in legitimate generic medicines, meaning that poor people will be denied access to them.’

As with SOPA/PIPA, resistance to ACTA is building up, with coordinated protests happening all over Europe. Find out the latest at stopacta.info or laquadrature.net.

Charlie Harvey