ACTA: Deal or no deal?

What’s been described as a near final draft of the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) was released in October amidst confusion over whether a deal had in fact been reached.

United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk signalled the negotiations were over and he hailed the treaty as a “significant victory for those who care about protecting and enforcing intellectual property rights” However, reaction from the European Union was cautious, with one official saying “we've come a long way but we must still close the remaining gaps without which there will be no agreement." Whatever the status of the October text, important changes that better protect the user community, including teachers and students, have been incorporated into ACTA. In particular, anti-circumvention provisions that would have prohibited the breaking of so-called “digital locks” placed on electronic content has been watered down. The latest draft provides flexibility for countries that could allow for the use and reproduction of digitally locked content for legal purposes, such as education and research. Additionally, Internet service providers under the latest draft will no longer be held liable for the copyright infringement of their customers. Still, concerns about the treaty remain. The U.S.-based Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property warned that ACTA’s provisions on border measures could affect access to generic medicines. “The text still promotes an EU-style legal regime that would facilitate the cross-border seizures of legitimate and lawful generic medicines that transit through any ACTA member,” the group stated. David Robinson, Education International’s trade consultant, agrees there remain some troubling elements in the draft treaty, but says that overall it represents a major improvement for the education community. “There are some very important flexibilities in the latest draft that allow for continuing copyright exceptions for educational purposes,” he stated. “However, we need to be vigilant that governments and industry don’t try to interpret the language in ACTA narrowly in an attempt to restrict our access to content that facilitates teaching and learning.”

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