Outside of the negotiators actually sitting at the table attempting to hammer out the accord, perhaps no one is following the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) more closely than University of Ottawa Law Professor Michael Geist.
Freelance author Richard Poynder recently corralled Geist for a wide ranging question and answer session on ACTA (PDF). A few choice exchanges from the interview are included below.
Geist provides his version of a quick overview of ACTA:
Actually in some ways ACTA is a bit of a misnomer, both with respect to calling it a trade agreement, and in suggesting that it deals with counterfeiting, or primarily with counterfeiting. There are undoubtedly counterfeiting provisions in it. But what has proved to be most controversial about ACTA, and arguably is the most important aspect of it, are the copyright-related provisions.
Geist’s main concerns with ACTA:
… you know one challenge that has arisen from an ACTA advocacy perspective is that its implications differ for pretty much every country. So yes, there are broadly uniform concerns that resonate everywhere around, say, the lack of transparency associated with the deal, some of the privacy implications and whether the three strikes issue should be mandatory or not. But then there are all sorts of other provisions in ACTA whose relevance depends on where you sit and what your domestic law currently looks like.
For instance, if you are in the United States there are fewer implications for you than if you were in any of the other countries taking part in the negotiations — because much of what is currently proposed in ACTA is based on a US model.
On the overall secrecy of the negotiations and the use of NDAs on those consulting the process:
The issue of national security is a separate matter. This came up when people asked to see the ACTA documents under the Freedom of Information or access to information statutes. These requests were denied in the US on the basis of national security. I mean, the notion that a copyright deal is somehow akin to nuclear secrets is just insane.
The secrecy associated with the deal appears to be an attempt to mute criticism. Ironically enough, however, it has had the opposite effect: we are seeing a steady stream of leaks, and this is stirring up far more resistance and public concern, and gaining far more attention, than might have been the case had they taken a more open and transparent approach.
Who wins if ACTA is eventually finalized?
… if they are able to conclude a treaty I think it is pretty obvious that it will be the US and the European Union — who are the major protagonists behind this — who will benefit.
Geist was asked if he thought that ACTA was being driven by “a few large businesses... primarily American”:
I think that is the prime driver behind this, but I don't think it is exclusively American companies — some of the large companies we see pushing for ACTA are based in Europe.
But as I said, it's not new: This linkage between the corporate perspective and US trade policy has been in place now since the mid 1990s, and if you take a look at the various trade agreements that the US has entered in since then you can track the whole process.
Current countries taking part in ACTA negotiations include the United States, the European Union, Canada, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Switzerland, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Singapore.