We get SOPA and PIPA… but what the heck is ACTA?

Last week, the internet spoke out against the SOPA and PIPA legislation in Congress. The result was that both bills were shelved for the time being. But since then, something new has popped up on the techie radar.

ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement is, as stated by Wikipedia, “a proposed plurilateral agreement for the purpose of establishing international standards on intellectual property rights enforcement”. (A plurilateral agreement, for those of you who, like me, are not up on political lingo, is a term used by the World Trade Organization to describe an agreement between more than two countries, but not a great many).

The idea behind ACTA is that it would create international rules concerning intellectual property. ACTA encourages internet service providers to retain and provide information about suspected copyright infingers and grants law enforcement the power to persue criminal investigations against suspects who may have commercially profited from their infringement.

Sounds all well and good, right?

Well… not so much. It also allows criminal investigations against individuals without probable cause.

But what is really disturbing is that President Obama chose to sign (several months ago) this agreement without Congressional approval by calling it an “executive agreement” rather than a “treaty” (even though other countries enthusiastically refer to it as a treaty). Even if it is decided that it’s not a treaty, the President cannot enter binding international agreements on matters under Congress’s plenary power… which, according to Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, intellectual property and copyright is one of.

In short, Obama is trying to circumvent Congressional authority on ACTA.  Senator Wyden (who, some might recall, was a very vocal opponent of PIPA and threatened to filibuster it if it came to a vote) has taken notice of this and sent President Obama a letter on the subject.

In addition to its questionable constitutionality, many of the same concerns raised about SOPA and PIPA have been raised reguarding ACTA. The European Union, which seems to have finally relented and plans to sign tomorrow, had particular worries about the effects on individual speech.

There is now a petition on WhiteHouse.gov, demanding that ACTA be brought before the Senate for ratification. I would encourage people to sign it. Even if Congress ultimately ratifies it (which, given the current goings-on regarding IP and copyright legislation seems unlikely), at least then the decision to do so would have been made constitutionally.

Read the full text of ACTA here.

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Nikki Blight – Web/PHP Developer