Negotiators will on Wednesday publish the first officially-released draft of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, a new treaty designed to harmonise copyright enforcement around the world.
The decision to release the consolidated draft on 21 April was made at the eighth round of Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (Acta) negotiations, which took place this week in Wellington, New Zealand. So far, the only publicly available information on the negotiating countries' proposals and amendments have been leaked documents purporting to be drafts of the agreement.
"There was a general sense from this session that negotiations have now advanced to a point where making a draft text available to the public will help the process of reaching a final agreement," the participants said in a joint statement on Friday.
"For that reason, and based on the specific momentum coming out of this meeting, participants have reached unanimous agreement that the time is right for making available to the public the consolidated text coming out of these discussions, which will reflect the substantial progress made at this round."
The publication of the draft text will go some way to fulfilling demands for transparency in the Acta negotiations, as expressed by members of the European Parliament, ISPs, the European privacy czar Peter Hustinx and various digital rights groups.
"With the official draft text released, government officials will now be able to answer specific questions about the text," Canadian internet law expert Michael Geist wrote in a Friday blog post. "Many previously declined to do so on the grounds that they would not address questions arising from unofficial or leaked documents."
The participants in the Wellington round included Australia, Canada, the European Union (represented by the European Commission), the EU Presidency (Spain) and EU Member States, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland and the USA. According to the statement, the negotiations saw progress made in "narrowing existing differences" between different countries' systems of civil enforcement, border measures, criminal enforcement and "special measures for the digital environment".
However, despite the imminent publication of the draft Acta text, the participating countries' respective positions on various issues will remain confidential, the statement said.
The most comprehensive leak of Acta proposals and amendments appeared in late March, when a full consolidated text was published online by the French digital rights group La Quadrature du Net. Although the commission refused to say whether or not the document was genuine, the text appeared to show EU resistance to US proposals that would have seen people cut off the internet for repeatedly infringing copyright online.
The leaked document also detailed US proposals for new criminal offences to be created around the world. These offences would have included breaking digital rights management (DRM) on copyrighted content, creating or distributing DRM-breaking tools, and distributing content that has been stripped of its DRM.
Since Karel De Gucht became the new EU trade commissioner at the start of the year, the commission has maintained that it will not accept any global regime of internet disconnections for copyright infringement. The commission prefers to leave issues such as disconnection up to the discretion of individual member states.
In Friday's statement, negotiators maintained that "Acta will not interfere with a signatory's ability to respect its citizens' fundamental rights and liberties".
"While the participants recognise the importance of responding effectively to the challenge of internet piracy, they confirmed that no participant is proposing to require governments to mandate a 'graduated response' or 'three strikes' approach to copyright infringement on the internet," the statement read.
The statement also stressed that Acta will contain no obligation for border authorities to "search travellers' baggage or their personal electronic devices for infringing materials".
"In addition, Acta will not address the cross-border transit of legitimate generic medicines," the participants added.
The next round of negotiations will take place in Switzerland in June, according to the statement.