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ACTA, CETA and the TPPA: Enforcing intellectual property rights

With European protests against ratifying the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, the failure in the U.S. to pass a draconian Stop Online Piracy Act and the recent explosion of opposition to Canada’s online spying legislation, regulation of the Internet is looking good for story of the year (or at least one of them) in this Christmas’ news-in-reviews. The anticipated re-introduction in the next few weeks of Harper’s new copyright reform legislation, which internet freedom advocate Michael Geist warns could disrupt the traditional balance in Canadian law between the rights of content producers and content users, will prolong the public conversation.

So will Canada-EU free trade talks (CETA), which will tackle copyright and other intellectual property rights issues at an April negotiating round that officials hope will be the last before a deal is signed this summer if not earlier.

These laws and “trade” agreements of course deal with a lot more than Internet freedom and are primarily concerned with enforcement of numerous types of intellectual property rights against theft, piracy or, as the “C” in ACTA suggests, trade in counterfeit goods. These goods can include movies, music or games that have been bootlegged or shared over online networks, generic medicines and other pharmaceuticals destined for developing countries, and other patentable or certifiable goods like genetically modified crops, geographically identified food (ex. Champagne), industrial designs, etc.

What the deals–CETA, ACTA, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement–have in common is that they ramp up protections for already powerful rights holders and require state authorities to criminalize real and even suspected infractions of those private rights. Unlike Harper’s copyright legislation, however, the trade deals are negotiated behind closed doors, which is wrong to begin with but strikingly worse given what’s at stake: higher drug costs in Canada, the freedom of farmers to save seeds, the future of the Internet as a democratic versus a purely corporate space.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on the ins and outs of intellectual property so I’m going to suggest further reading (some short, some longer) on these agreements, their links with each other and with Canada’s legislative framework and proposed copyright reforms.

Beyond SOPA and PIPA: There’s Lots More to Battle in the Fight to Keep the Web Free, NOW Toronto, January 18, 2012

Europe Considers Using CETA To Create “Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement Plus,” Michael Geist blog entry, June 13, 2011

ACTA and Access to Medicines, a report by Sean Flynn and Bijan Madhani (American University Washington College of Law) for The Greens / European Free Alliance political group, 10-6-2011

TRIPS, TRIPS Plus and Doha, a primer from Doctors Without Borders on next generation trade deals as they affect access to medicines, last updated July 2011

The Council of Canadians’ submission to the federal government on Canada’s entry into Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement negotiations, February 14, 2012 (pages 7-10 on copyright and access to medicines)

EU Report Says CETA IP Provisions Would Increase Consumer Prices, Royalty Deficit, Michael Geist blog entry, March 16, 2011

Copyright Reform in Canada, a briefing note from the Consumers Council of Canada, which links ACTA, CETA and the Copyright Modernization Act

Copyright changes: How they’ll affect users of digital content, Coalition for Cultural Diversity, October 17, 2011

This quickly assembled list of articles is by no means definitive. But with CETA negotiations coming to a head and intellectual property rights emerging as the most publicly controversial aspect of those and other agreements and legislation coming our way, I hope the information is useful.

In our submission to the recently concluded online public consultation on TPPA negotiations, the Council of Canadians urged the government not to entertain discussions on intellectual property which are best done elsewhere. This was also the view of the parliamentary Heritage Committee last year in its study of the Canada-EU trade deal, in which it called on the Government of Canada to:

ensure that domestic copyright policies are not part of any present or future trade negotiations; that Canada’s commitments to the implementation of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) are limited to the agreement’s focus on combating international counterfeiting and commercial piracy efforts; and that the Government of Canada retains the right to maintain domestic copyright policies that have been developed within the framework of its commitments to the World Intellectual Property Organization and the Berne Convention.