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If the leaks that have been released in the past day are to be believed, the internet may be facing its biggest threat yet: the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). The negotiators who are sitting down behind closed doors today to iron out this international trade agreement have the internet on their mind.

And that's not a good thing.

According to leaks, provisions of the agreement drafted by U.S. negotiators which deal with "enforcement in the digital environment" are some of the most draconian yet. And given that ACTA is an international trade agreement, its effects could be far-reaching.

As currently written, ACTA would reportedly:

  • Force member countries to adopt certain IP enforcement ideas similar in nature to those found in the TRIPS Agreement.
  • Force member countries to impose liability on third party service providers.
  • Force third party service providers to adopt a 'graduated response' or 'three strikes' policy to qualify for 'safe harbors' already afforded service providers in many countries currently. Additionally, service providers would have to adhere to a notice-and-takedown process, something which is not present in many countries.
  • Force member countries to implement anti-circumvention rules that effectively make breaking DRM -- for any purpose -- illegal.

In essence, ACTA would drastically alter the IP enforcement landscape in member nations/bodies, which include the E.U. and U.S. In many cases, ACTA would be in conflict with existing laws in the member nations, or would effectively create laws for which there is no existing equivalent.

Now I'm all for the protection of intellectual property, but there's something quite wrong about an international trade agreement written in secret under the guise of dealing with 'anti-counterfeiting' that is really just a massive trojan horse in a push for transnational regulation of the internet.

Hopefully, the light that has been shed on what's taking place will put a stop to this nonsense. Not only would ACTA be bad for citizens of the member nations, it would put businesses in those member nations at a significant disadvantage. While IP infringement is a bane that creates significant economic loss, turning the legions of honest third party internet service providers into IP police is probably the worst strategy for effectively addressing the problem.

Photo credit: katesheets via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 4 November, 2009 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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