The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's "ACTA is fine" facade has just taken a fatal hit. It's time for the department to reconsider its position on the endangered agreement.
The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) introduces a legal framework for 37 countries on copyright protection as a measure to curb both the flow of counterfeit goods around the globe and digital copyright infringement for music and films.
This problem child has not had an easy labour. First, everyone was hot under the collar because negotiations for the agreement were conducted in secret. Leaked documents pointed to policies that could have required countries to cut the internet connections of copyright infringers.
However, after it was found that the drafts released to the public were substantially different to the leaked documents, a lot of the tumult died away. Australia signed the treaty, but it still hasn't ratified it. Nor has any other nation.
And perhaps no nation will.
Overnight, the European Parliament voted by 478 to 39 to reject ACTA. This means that the agreement can't come into force anywhere within the EU.
The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties expressed its worry last month that if Australia isn't careful, it could end up chained to an agreement that minor nations are party to, but not major powers like Europe.
"If this is the future of copyright and IP [intellectual property] regulation, then potential parties to the treaty, like the EU, will, after consideration, ratify this treaty. However, copyright and IP holders in Australia will not be best served if the treaty is ratified by Australia and a handful of others, but is not compatible with the copyright and IP regimes applicable in major creative centres as the United States and Europe."
The committee recommended a "wait-and-see" approach, prophesying that ACTA might not be ratified by enough countries to come into existence.
In the past, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has staunchly defended the agreement, saying publicly that it has been harmed by misinformation, and repeating ad nauseum that ratifying ACTA won't require any legal changes.
However, New York Law School professor Dan Hunter said that in adopting ACTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, Australia would limit the amount of reform that might eventuate from its current copyright review. The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties said that the department should at least wait until the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) completes its copyright review at the end of 2013 before ratifying the treaty.
The department said today that it is still considering the ramifications of the committee's report. But for me, it feels like an open-and-shut case. If Europe's not on-board this ship, why are we? There's just too much at stake.