ACTA ratification faces NZ hurdles

STEPHEN BELL
Last updated 11:02 18/07/2012
European Parliament, Strasbourg
Reuters
WATCHING THE SKYNETS: Members of the the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance hold posters which reads 'hello democracy, goodbye ACTA' during a voting session on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on July 4, 2012.

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The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), though signed by New Zealand last October, will be opened to public consultation in the first of several legislative stages the agreement must pass through before it is ratified.

Following consultation the treaty will be subject to a National Interest Analysis (NIA) and then normal parliamentary process before a decision is taken to ratify it, says Alastair Stewart, a spokesperson at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (formerly the MED).

The consultation process has yet to begin and at the time of going to print details on the timetable were not available.

ACTA's recent rejection by the European Parliament has been followed by publication of a report by an all-party committee of Australia's Parliament; this advises against ratifying the treaty, at least until the meaning of terms such as "intellectual property" and "piracy" have been clarified and ACTA's potential impact on the economy better assessed.

"Any decision by the [NZ] government about ratification would naturally take into consideration developments in other ACTA signatory countries," says Stewart.

"It is prudent," the Australian Federal Parliament's Joint Standing Committee on Treaties has recommended, "that ACTA not be ratified by Australia until this committee has received and considered the assessment of the economic and social benefits and costs of the agreement, the Australian government has issued the notice of clarification in relation to the terms of the treaty as recommended in this report and the ALRC [Australian Law Reform Commission] has reported on its inquiry into Copyright and the Digital Economy."

These moves have encouraged opponents of the agreement, who locally have responded to Computerworld's online stories on the European rejection of ACTA and Australian caution.

"This [international caution] should be a lesson for our negotiators and those who are instructing them," both on ACTA and the still-in-negotiation Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPPA), says Dave Lane of software developer Egressive in our online comments forum. "These secret international negotiations are undemocratic and as such, unacceptable."

The full and final ACTA text has now been published here.

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For ACTA to take effect, it needs ratification by six of the 11 signatories: the European Union, Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, the US and Switzerland.

Mexico has rejected it, Europe has voted it down and now Australia appears hesitant.

However, Canadian lawyer and avid ACTA follower Michael Geist says no-one should prematurely predict ACTA's demise. "It may still eke out the necessary six ratifications in a year or two for it to take effect; but it is badly damaged and will seemingly never achieve the goals of its supporters as a model for other countries to adopt and to emerge as a new global standard for IP enforcement," Geist writes on his blog.

Intellectual property protection is a key theme of both ACTA and TPPA, with some observers suggesting TPPA could be used to relitigate swingeing penalties against online copyright infringement, including termination of internet accounts, which were eventually not included in ACTA.

A coalition of ICT industry and user organisations launched a "Fair Deal Campaign" last week at the NetHui event hosted by InternetNZ. The campaign's purpose is to raise awareness of the effects of TPPA on New Zealand copyright and related laws. The Fair Deal campaign is run by a coalition of New Zealand organisations, including InternetNZ, the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind, the Creative Freedom Foundation and NZRise.

-ComputerWorld

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