Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Defends ACTA

March 19, 2012 -

Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has deflected criticism that the government's ratification of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) will lead to internet service providers being forced to play the role of copyright police, among other criticisms about the treaty. The agency claims that ACTA wouldn't require changes to Australian law as it is today.

DFAT assistant secretary in the Trade Policy Issues and Industrials Branch, George Mina, told a joint parliamentary committee on treaties Monday that there has been "some misinformation in the debate" about the ACTA treaty, noting that most of it has to do with section five, which deals with digital copyright infringement.

"Activities that were legal before ACTA was ratified will not be illegal after," he said. "ACTA will not infringe on civil liberties. ACTA will not impact on freedom on the internet. [ACTA] will not require [internet service providers (ISPs)] to monitor the activities on individuals," he said.

He added that ACTA would not lead to censorship of the Internet and would not require ISP's to terminate user connections. He also said that, even though section five says that ISPs may be required to hand over user data at the request of rights holders who believe an act of infringement has occurred, they still have to file a "legally sufficient claim" to get access to this information.

"These provisions represent a very small part of the agreement and are very limited in their effect," he said. "This is to encourage internet providers to work with copyright owners to curb the infringing activities of their users."

Prior to Mina's testimony, the Australian Digital Alliance's copyright adviser Ellen Broad said before the committee that the ACTA treaty would change the balance of copyright law, both in Australia and overseas.

"Internationalising Australian standards for copyright law is not a proper starting point," she said.

She continued by saying that the treaty could lead to policing of communications between users, and that the scale of ACTA could extend to every day commercial activities, like including copyrighted material in an email.

"It is still open to debate in Australia as to whether our own high IP standards in Australia are appropriate," she said. "It could make it difficult to amend domestic policy in Australia's interest."

Broad was also critical of the lack of transparency around the negotiations for the agreement. DFAT rejected this, saying that the government had "worked hard" to ensure openness.

"We did argue vociferously during the negotiations for the text to be released, and April 2010 was the first occasion for the full negotiation text to be released," Mina said. "Anybody who read the April 2010 text would have seen the plethora of views and negotiating positions on the table at that time."

It's not as though people weren't able to influence outcomes at that stage," he added. "We provided full access to our negotiating team."

Finally, the Australian Copyright Council and Music Industry Piracy Investigations (MIPI) gave its two cents on ACTA before the committee. The group's executive director Fiona Phillips said that ACTA "provides a practical opportunity and response, which Australia should be part of."

She noted that the treaty should be viewed within the context of the Australian legal framework, and that the enforcement would remain under the laws that are already in place in Australia.

While the group claimed that digital copyright infringement was having a "big effect" on the entertainment industry, it also admitted that it was tough to quantify exact costs. Sharing information and addressing copyright infringement on a global scale, and the need for education about intellectual property rights were the main reasons why ACTA is so important, according to the group.

Source: ZD Net

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