International anti-counterfeit plans published, EU reassures

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The Independent Online

The EU published on Wednesday formerly secret draft papers on an international anti-counterfeiting deal, with no sign of a controversial mooted "three-strike" ban for on-line copyright breachers.

Talks on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) have been ongoing for two years between Europe, the US, Japan, Canada, New Zealand and others.

The aim is to establish an international framework for national efforts "to more effectively combat the proliferation of counterfeiting and piracy," with the accent on Internet fraud.

The drafters, who have much work still to do, have to perform a tricky balancing act.

They need to balance between assuring individual music downloaders that they will not be excluded from access to broadband, give service providers ways of avoiding liability while still ensuring the goal of better protecting the products and ideas of intellectual property owners, and reduce counterfeiting and illegal trade.

"This text shows that the overall objective of ACTA is to address large-scale infringements of intellectual property rights which have a significant economic impact. ACTA will by no means lead to a limitation of civil liberties or to "harassment of consumers," said EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht.

He assured that "specific concerns, raised in particular by the civil society, are unfounded," with none of the ACTA negotiators now proposing to introduce a compulsory "three strikes" rule under which Internet service providers would be able to terminate the connection of individuals found infringing copyrights and engaging in internet piracy.

Similarly while border control officers would, under the draft rules, be able to stop goods that infringe intellectual property rights from crossing borders.

However, "a de minimis exception... would permit travellers to bring in goods for personal use," meaning personal iPods with illegally downloaded songs on them would not be confiscated.

But Internet service providers could become virtual policemen as they would be encouraged to block access to suspected pirate Web sites, according to the draft of a previously-secret agreement.

Such Internet providers "disabling access" to pirated material and protecting copyrights would be immune from lawsuits.

The United States had been reluctant to release the draft terms of the agreement, but the European parliament last month voted to demand its release.

"I am very glad that the EU convinced its partners to release the negotiation text", said EU commissioner De Gucht.

"The text makes clear what ACTA is really about: it will provide our industry and creators with better protection in overseas markets which is essential for business to thrive. It will not have a negative impact on European citizens."

The agreement aims to increase international cooperation against copyright infringement, including sharing of information and cooperation between our law enforcement authorities.

It also aims to establish "enforcement practices," fostering specialized intellectual property expertise within police forces and to raise consumer awareness about the importance of IPR protection and "the detrimental effects" of infringements.

The OECD estimates that infringements of intellectual property traded internationally (excluding domestic production and consumption) account for more than 150 billion euros per year.

The current negotiating parties of ACTA are a mix of developed and emerging economies: Australia, Canada, the European Union, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland and the United States.

So far eight rounds of talks have been held, most recently in New Zealand last week.