ACTA reborn: Commission refuses to discuss EU-Canada trade agreement leaks

CETA, a free-trade deal being thrashed out between the EU and Canada, appears to contain precisely the same copyright crackdown provisions as ACTA, the international treaty rejected by the European Parliament last week
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

"We don't talk about leaks."

Indeed. No-one does. The above is the predictable response I got this morning from the European Commission when I asked about the striking similarities between ACTA, the copyright enforcement treaty that was drop-kicked out of the EU by the European Parliament last week, and the leaked text of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), a free-trade deal currently being worked out between the EU and Canada.

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CETA, a free-trade deal being thrashed out between the EU and Canada, appears to contain many of the same copyright crackdown provisions as ACTA.
Because CETA is a trade agreement, its negotiations can be conducted in secret. The same thing happened with ACTA, which was designated as the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement despite the fact that it was clearly a treaty.

The leak apparently shows a CETA draft dating back to February, and Canadian law professor Michael Geist published a comprehensive-looking table on Monday, showing just how similar the text is to that of ACTA.

"CETA is nothing to do with ACTA and is not an attempt to revisit what Parliament rejected last week," a spokesperson for the office of trade commissioner Karel De Gucht told me today. "We're not going to comment on the leak or compare it with ACTA."

Handily, Geist's comparison of the two texts demonstrates that, although ACTA has been defeated in the EU due to public hostility towards its provisions, the very same provisions could be brought into the EU anyway if CETA comes into force. These are a few of the relevant bits:

  • The criminalisation of copyright infringement on a 'commercial scale', which is defined as broadly as it was in ACTA. In other words, people putting copyrighted images on their blogs could become criminals.
  • The criminalisation of camcording in cinemas. This was actually made non-mandatory in the final ACTA text, but in CETA it's back to being obligatory.
  • Making DRM circumvention a crime.

And so on. What's particularly impressive about this comparison is how clearly huge chunks of ACTA text were copied, word-for-word, into CETA.

Now, it would probably be a mistake to think that the inclusion of these clauses in CETA is some kind of ploy by the European Commission to get round the European Parliament's rejection of ACTA. For one thing, in February, when this draft was apparently drawn up, ACTA was not yet dead in Europe. More importantly, the draft appears to show that it was Canada that inserted the I-Can't-Believe-It's-Not-ACTA stuff.

We appear to find ourselves back where we started. As long as the secrecy that surrounds trade agreements can be used to veil discussions that have little to do with trade, all we can do is speculate.

And leaks are all we have to go on.

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