Will proposed treaty make border agents copyright cops?

Document posted to Wikileaks indicates trend toward IP crackdown

An Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) under quiet negotiation by several countries including the US and Canada is raising concern in some quarters after a leaked document, purportedly offering more details on the nascent agreement, was posted on the Internet.

The document, titled "Discussion Paper on a Possible Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement" (download PDF), was posted last week by the Wikileaks whistle-blower Web site. The four-page document was apparently quietly provided to select lobbyists in the "intellectual property industry" late last year -- but not, apparently, to public-interest organizations, according to Wikileaks.

Plans for the trade agreement were announced last October by the office of the US Trade Representative (USTR). At that time, the agreement was described by the USTR as a "major" step in the fight against the global piracy and counterfeiting of intellectual property.

The countries that have been identified as engaged in ACTA discussions are the US, Canada, the 27 member states of the European Union, Japan, Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, and Switzerland. In a fact sheet (download PDF) accompanying the announcement, the USTR said that ACTA would focus on increasing international cooperation and information sharing around IP protection, the creation of stronger and standard enforcement mechanisms, and the establishment of a more "effective" legal framework for combating piracy and counterfeiting. Among the legal provisions being considered are those for criminal enforcement, "border measures" and for Internet distribution of IP.

The discussion paper published by Wikileaks basically offers a more detailed glimpse at some of the provisions in ACTA that are reportedly being negotiated by participating countries, and has led to considerable concern and speculation in several media outlets, especially in Canada.

According to the leaked document, the provisions being negotiated under ACTA are being driven by the need to curb global piracy and counterfeiting of products protected by intellectual property rights (IPR) and include the following:

Criminal enforcement measures that allow law enforcement to take action against alleged IPR infringers and gives them the authority to seize and destroy IP infringing goods without complaint by rights holders.

  • Border enforcement measures that include the authority for customs officials to seize and destroy IP infringing goods

  • "Ex-officio" authority for customs officials to suspend import or export of suspected IP rights infringing products

  • Civil enforcement powers that will allow law enforcement to conduct preliminary searches.

  • Legal safeguards for Internet Service Providers to encourage them to remove copyright infringing material and to provide information on those doing so to the rights holders.

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