ACTA? Big deal. We're fine.

Australia has dodged the bullet that is the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, but then we always would have.

commentary Australia has dodged the bullet that is the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), but then we always would have.


Many cried foul, but ACTA's a storm-in-a-teacup (Cry image, by Kartik Mistry, CC BY-SA 2.0)

The treaty was whipped-up by copyright harpies as a shadowy destabilising force that would undermine the way we play online.

Internet service providers would go broke, users would be served thousands of dollars in compensation demands, and all because, they said, the fat cat media moguls and recording raccoons would be handed the keys to the country.

But let's be quite straight here. That's unlikely to happen.

The treaty is a document drawn between the least copyright-infringing nations, who own intellectual property that is subject to rampant piracy. They are the United Kingdom, America, and EU nations which own billions of dollars of IP, and would love to — and should — stamp-out the litany of illegal product rip-offs in circulation.

Many of these nations are undergoing their own copyright reforms, such as Canada and New Zealand, but as a whole the law is pretty consistent across the board. ACTA merely aimed to knead out the bumps, and get everyone talking the same language.

No-one has signed the agreement yet, but the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) is quietly confident all participants will sign on.

Indeed, the department has managed to placate our own federal bureaucrats that the treaty won't cause them trouble. They're positively chuffed, DFAT reckons.

Trade representatives underwent three-year negotiations to sow the seeds of Australian copyright law abroad, and change nothing in return. And despite efforts to do the same by representatives from Japan and the EU, among others, Australia surfaced with its goals achieved, each of its 55 demands met, and without the need to change domestic law.

But after Trade Minister Craig Emerson had the pleasure of delivering the good news: "this is good news for our film and music industries, our computer programmers and authors and for the protection of famous Australian brands", the harpies were quick to show their dissatisfaction.

It would open a can-of-litigious-worms, they said, drawing on the ambiguity of terms such as "may" which dot the final ACTA text (PDF) as cause for concern.

They said ACTA "may" give copyright holders a leg-up to push for domestic law reform, but I reckon that's alarmist chaff.

What that terminology means, for us, is that we don't have to harden our already adequate copyright laws. In the example in which internet service providers "may" be responsible for the trademark infringement of their subscribers, the EU, which pushed for the clause, "may" maintain its hardened stance, while Australia "may" be free to simply do nothing.

What ACTA will do, in perhaps a decade, is shore up intellectual property protections to pressure nations into action who currently turn a blind-eye to copyright infringement. It will show those that beg to differ or just don't care that stealing IP is not on, and it may make those nations look decidedly undesirable for foreign investment if employees are allowed to cut and run with IP.

There is simply no defence for copyright infringement, and many arguments against ACTA are bollocks.