Aust govt rejects delaying ACTA ratification

The Australian government has ruled out waiting for the completion of a review of copyright law before ratifying the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA).
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

The Australian government has said that it will not wait for the completion of the Australian Law Reform Commission's review of the Copyright Act before ratifying the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA).

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 the digital copyright infringement of music and films.

The agreement has drawn harsh criticisms from privacy and copyright activists since discussions began in 2008 because of what appears to be hard-line tactics to crack down on copyright infringement, such as criminalising digital rights management circumvention and forcing signatories to take down infringing websites.

So far, 31 of the 37 countries have signed on to the agreement including Australia, and Japan has ratified the treaty. ACTA will come into force 30 days after the sixth party ratifies the agreement.

The European parliament has rejected the ratification of ACTA, meaning that at least six of the eight non-EU countries will need to ratify the agreement in order for it to come into effect.

The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, which looked into Australia's potential ratification of the treaty, recommended in June 2012 that the Australian government should delay until an independent analysis is undertaken to determine the economic impact of ACTA, and until the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) completes its copyright review at the end of 2013.

In a response tabled in the Senate on Tuesday, the government agreed to conduct an independent and transparent assessment of the economic and social benefits and costs of ratifying ACTA that would be completed by the end of 2012, but said it would consider ratifying the treaty after the analysis was completed.

"The government intends to consider ratification of ACTA following the receipt of the analysis ... but would also consider any further, timely recommendation of [the committee] as part of that consideration," the government said.

It would not wait for the review of the Copyright Act to be completed because it believes ACTA provides "flexibility" in its implementation.

"ACTA allows considerable flexibility in its implementation. Australia would retain considerable flexibility to modify its laws on copyright, while still meeting its obligations under ACTA."

Greens communications spokesperson Scott Ludlam told the Senate that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) just wasn't listening to concerns about the agreement, and it didn't bode well for future debate over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement.

"Overall, this response reads as though the government have not changed their views at all. They ... are assuming that these issues can be sorted out with the kind of glib and rather dismissive response that we have here. I am alarmed because we have been here before," he said.

"At what point will DFAT actually start listening? There is no real evidence presented in the government's response to the treaty's report that the government is listening just yet."

New York Law School professor Dan Hunter said in June that if Australia implemented ACTA and TPP, it would restrict what changes the government could adopt.

DFAT yesterday revealed that it intends to discuss, as part of the TPP negotiations, the issue of Australians paying more for IT products than customers in countries outside of Australia do.

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