ACTA may be unstoppable: Pirate Party

Even as the Pirate Party files its submission against the ratification of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), it has admitted that it may be too late to stop ACTA from coming into force.

Even as the Pirate Party files its submission against the ratification of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), it has admitted that it may be too late to stop ACTA from coming into force.

(Santa King of Pirate image by Stéfan, CC BY-SA 2.0)

ACTA is an agreement between Australia, Canada, the European Union, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland and the United States to combat counterfeiting and piracy through cooperation, a set of best-practice guidelines for enforcement and the legal framework to support these practices.

Australia signed ACTA in October last year, and invited submissions on the terms of reference until 27 January. The government has not yet set a date for a public hearing on the issues, but once these are heard it is expected to ratify the agreement. ACTA will come into force 30 days after the sixth party ratifies the agreement.

It has attracted criticism from various groups, including the Pirate Party, over concerns that due to a lack of judicial oversight, copyright owners would be able to "play both judge and jury, while forcing ISPs to take on the role of executioner".

Pirate Party secretary Brendan Molloy has slammed the process, stating that it had been hindered in submitting any formal submission until the formal text (PDF) was released in November last year, after the signing of the agreement.

"Our information to initially criticise the agreement was based on leaked drafts. This also means that we are unsure who was consulted (and how they were consulted) when ACTA was being drafted," the party told ZDNet Australia

"The whole development process of the agreement has been farcical. Completely opaque, secretive and without evidence to back up its relevance. It is a horribly flawed agreement," Molloy said.

Molloy claims that public consultations held in Sydney in 2010 with members from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Customs and the Attorney-General's Department were held in a similar manner.

"None of them wanted their names revealed, and made it quite clear to us that as 'public' as these consultations were labelled to be, they would prefer it if we did not broadcast the words spoken in the room, reiterating that in America we would have been required to sign [a non-disclosure agreement]. This was repeated countless times as I continued to take notes," Molloy said.

In its submission (PDF) to the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, the Pirate Party states that the agreement was drawn up in consultation with movie and music industry groups, without any concern for the consumers or the public.

"The trade agreement is illegitimate and should be rejected on this reason alone. To accept this agreement is to condone the undemocratic process in which it was forged. The Australian government is elected to serve the Australian people, not the interests of multi-national media and pharmaceutical executives."

While the Pirate Party has admitted that the agreement does propose some legitimate anti-counterfeiting measures, as a whole it does not see ACTA as a step in the right direction for intellectual property reform, and has called on Australia to withdraw from the agreement.

"At present, Australia has signed the agreement, but can withdraw. It is our hope that this will happen, for the reasons our submission provides," the Pirate Party told ZDNet Australia.

However, it acknowledged that the likelihood of this occurring is slim, since it is now so late in the process.

"The European Union has also signed ACTA, so it is quite probably finalised for now."

But while the passing of ACTA appears to be finalised, the Pirate Party said that the issue itself is far from over.

"The unfortunate thing is that it allows future modification, so to say it's 'well and truly finalised' is inaccurate for such a dynamic agreement — it is likely to change."