Wikileaks has published a series of US state cables relating to the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement.
The multilateral agreement, commonly known as Acta, is an international trade treaty aimed at harmonising international copyright enforcement laws, was finalised in November and awaits ratification in the various signatory countries. On Thursday, Wikileaks released several Acta-related cables, in conjunction with the French digital rights group La Quadrature du Net.
As La Quadrature du Net noted in a statement, the cables "do not bring anything entirely new to our understanding of Acta". However, they do reveal certain interesting details about the lengthy and secretive formulation of the agreement.
Cables from 2006, around the time that work on Acta began, showed that Japan resisted a World Trade Organisation legal attack on China, which is widely seen as a haven for intellectual property infringement — while groups such as La Quadrature du Net are most exercised by the online infringement aspects of Acta, the agreement is largely concerned with physical counterfeits.
"Trying to explain why Japanese companies oppose confrontation with China, [Japanese foreign affairs representative Yoshio] Tanabe said that the people who manage the Chinese operations of Japanese companies tend to be very conservative and traditional in outlook," one cable read. "They believe that resorting to the courts is the wrong way to settle a problem... that dialogue is the best way to resolve their problems in China.
"Japanese companies in China also tend to believe that administrative penalties are working well-enough and that more criminal penalties are not necessary."
The same cables also showed the US pushing for a "freestanding agreement, not related to any international grouping such as the G-8 or OECD, which might make it more difficult to construct a high-standards agreement".
Intra-European disagreements over the competencies of the European Commission and national governments were also detailed in the cables. Italy was displeased at the US approaching the Commission rather than national administrations, while Portugal preferred an EU-centric approach. According to La Quadrature du Net, this demonstrated that the EU was a "rather weak negotiating party".
The cables also reflected US fears that Europe would press for geographical indicators — for example, that only sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France may be called champagne — to be protected in Acta. As it turned out, this was a major sticking point in the agreement right up until the end.
The latest release is not the first Acta-related leak to come via Wikileaks, as Julian Asaange's organisation was also responsible for publishing a leaked draft of the agreement in 2009.