ACTA Puts Canadian Copyright Law At Risk

FREDERICTON (CUP) – When I crossed the border to the U.S. in September with my brother and his girlfriend, we had a relatively painless experience. Although we were questioned inside the border office while our car was being searched, the whole ordeal took less than 20 minutes and we continued on our way no problem. Could you imagine how long the wait time at the border would be if the officials had the prerogative to search iPods and mp3 players for pirated material?

While wait time at the border is arguably the least pressing of the issues that could become a reality following implementation of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), it is perhaps the best example to demonstrate one of the most significant themes of ACTA – privacy invasion.

The agreement is currently being discussed and drafted by a number of countries including the United States, Japan, the European Union and Canada in response to the increased trade of counterfeit goods and copyright piracy.

It should be made clear that ACTA is being crafted under extremely tight security and as a result, information circulating the internet on ACTA (and by extension, this article) is largely based on a handful of miraculous leaks, with little confirmation by the governments involved. Efforts to formally obtain information on ACTA in the United States were denied on the grounds of national security, though Canada has allegedly requested the right to disclose its own nation-specific documents in the future. Another glimmer of hope came on Dec. 2, when Industry Minister Tony Clement said that ACTA, as it is not Canadian law, would be “subservient” to domestic law.

One of the most important things to understand about ACTA is that the civil and criminal enforcement provisions of the agreement do not deal exclusively with counterfeited or pirated property intended for profit. That rare EP you downloaded by your favourite band for personal use? Pirated. 

Congratulations, you are a criminal. And although we don’t yet know the specifics, there is a list of penalties in ACTA including financial charges and even prison sentences – though I doubt possession of a downloaded Lil Wayne album will land you in the slammer.

Under ACTA, customs and border officials would find their powers drastically strengthened, possibly giving them the ability to search, seize and/or destroy, without compensation, what they believe to be counterfeited or pirated property.

In addition, current information on ACTA says that the information disclosure provisions in the agreement would require countries to openly share information on alleged counterfeiting operations and specific individuals suspected to be involved to other countries conducting investigations.

As if this wasn’t troubling enough, the Internet provisions are perhaps most disturbing part of this whole mess. If ACTA is passed, Internet service providers may be required to enforce what's become known as "graduated response" or "notice-and-termination" procedures similar to current Internet laws in France.

This means that under ACTA, Internet service providers would be responsible for the content stored or transmitted using their service. If you’re caught three times storing or transmitting content that infringes on the intellectual property rights of others – like, say, a pre-release of Tha Carter IV – your Internet service will be shut down for one year.

While ACTA is still in the drafting stages, Dr. Michael Geist of the University of Ottawa speculates that ACTA could be in effect by 2012 unless something is done. Geist, a leading expert on copyright law and ACTA, has plenty of information on his blog, michaelgeist.ca. Various Canadian and international organizations have taken stances against ACTA, including the Pirate Party of Canada and Creative Commons, but these people and organizations cannot do it alone. Visit pirateparty.ca and creativecommons.org to learn more about the threat of the ACTA and the much less oppressive alternatives.

//Andrew Olsvik
The Brunswickan (University of New Brunswick)

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