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ACTA: The international trade agreement that makes SOPA look like a parking ticket

ACTA: The international trade agreement that makes SOPA look like a parking ticket

Last week, the denizens of the Internet flexed their collective muscle to kill two anti-piracy laws, SOPA and PIPA, that were set to be passed by Congress. It was the largest online protest in history, with websites voluntarily blacking out their pages for a day to illustrate the dangers of legislative censorship.

By any measure it was walloping success — at the end of the protest the number of politicians newly-opposed to the bills made passage impossible. The Internet gave itself a hearty pat on the back and went back to goofing off.

It seems the celebration was premature. The member states of the European Union are embroiled in a fight over the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). ACTA would allow countries to force Internet Service Providers to remove content they claim is infringing without a court order and with no legal oversight. The countries that have signed include South Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, as well as several countries in the EU.

The member states of the European Union are embroiled in a fight over the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). ACTA would allow countries to force Internet Service Providers to remove content they claim is infringing without a court order and with no legal oversight.

ACTA covers a wide range of intellectual property and physical products, including pharmaceuticals, fashion goods and various forms of entertainment.

If this is the first you are hearing of this, it is because the governments of the world have worked very hard to hide it from you.

The rapporteur for the European Union, Kader Arif, who was appointed to investigate the agreement and make recommendations based on his findings, resigned in protest yesterday, outraged at the lengths politicians have gone to conceal their work:

“As rapporteur of this text, I have faced never-before-seen manoeuvres from the right wing of this Parliament to impose a rushed calendar before public opinion could be alerted, thus depriving the Parliament of its right to expression and of the tools at its disposal to convey citizens' legitimate demands.”

ACTA has been negotiated and debated largely in secret since 2006; at one point the meeting to discuss the bill was hidden in a Wildlife and Fisheries meeting to avoid scrutiny. During the negotiations journalists, activists and bloggers who made Freedom of Information Act requests for the text of the bill were stonewalled under the auspices of national security. Even though the text of the bill was readily available to countries all over the world, American citizens were shut out of the conversation as long as possible.

It is too late to stop ratification at home: President Obama signed the bill back in September, classifying it as an “executive agreement” to avoid having to present it to the Senate. Senator Ron Wyden sent an open letter to Obama in October, calling him to answer for his executive overreach:

“It may be possible for the U.S. to implement ACTA or any other trade agreement, once validly entered, without legislation if the agreement requires no change in U.S. law, Wyden writes.“But regardless of whether the agreement requires changes in U.S. law…the executive branch lacks constitutional authority to enter a binding international agreement covering issues delegated by the Constitution to Congress’ authority, absent congressional approval.”

If this goes by without a fight, then a precendent will be set that further shuts the citizens of the world out of the workings of government and makes a larger seat at the table for corporate lobbyists, who helped craft ACTA.

Take action now. Contact your elected officials and ask them why this trade agreement is being rammed through the governing bodies of the world in secret. Ask them why the Obama administration feels ACTA was worth signing and why they are resorting to legal trickery to avoid accountability for doing so.

The corporations and governments behind ACTA are counting on your silence and complacency. They still think they live in a world where they dictate the rules of the game and we follow obediently behind, having been convinced there are no other options.Educate your friends, especially those in countries like the Germany and the Netherlands who haven’t signed yet, and boost the signal. There is still time to make your voice heard; the final vote in the European Union is scheduled for June of this year.

Let's give them a hell of a fight.

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