In the U.S., harsh criticism and massive Web protests may have taken SOPA and PIPA down (but not out), but abroad, Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (aka ACTA) looks like it's picking up steam despite coming under fire. ACTA's noble goal is to establish international standards to better protect intellectual property — yet its detractors say it opens a wide door to Internet censorship.
ACTA's not new and it's not a law; it's a trade agreement. That said, if it becomes an international standard, it could seriously influence law, in the U.S. and elsewhere (and, in fact, the U.S. has already signed it).
So, why is this acronym causing such a fuss, then? Well, ACTA could lead to the same Website-censoring punishments promised by the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) for the tiniest infraction, it's equally influenced by U.S. political interests and U.S. Big Content corporations such as the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America, and there's a worry that it could be used as a piece of bully legislation to force countries that don't sign into it to follow suit.
Read: it's SOPA or PIPA knocking at the back door.
Like SOPA/PIPA, this is a pretty huge issue, so here we're going to break it down with the help of some of our Internet friends.
E.U. Nations Signing ACTA
According to PC World's Jennifer Baker, on Thursday the "European Union signed up to the controversial Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement despite widespread opposition, particularly in Poland, where people took to the streets in protest." At a meeting in Tokyo, the U.K. and 21 other E.U. member states signed up for ACTA, and many countries that didn't, such as Germany and the Netherlands, "committed to do so in the near future, according to the European Parliament's Green party," PC World reports.
[ACTA] has been mired in controversy from the beginning due to secrecy imposed by the U.S. and worries that it may not uphold E.U. rules on data privacy. The most controversial paragraph in the final text leaves the door open for countries to introduce the so-called three-strikes rule, which would require Internet users to be cut off if they continue to download copyright material after receiving two warnings, as national authorities would be able to order ISPs to disclose personal information about customers.
A version of that mentioned three strikes rule already exists in France's HADOPI law, which has been in place for 15 months now and allows a French government agency created by the bill to hand out warning letters to believed illegal file-sharers. If you get three of those letters in a year, you're kicked off the net for a month and may face a fine of up to $2,000. If you ask the IFPI, the international version of the RIAA, HADOPI's working out great. If you ask the average garçon, it sucks.
There are other countries considering HADOPI-style three strikes laws, too, and as mentioned, a standard like ACTA could speed these proposals toward legislative reality.
Techdirt's Mike Masnick lays down why ACTA is such a concern in succinct terms here.
A Note About SOPA/PIPA
I'd just like to make it clear that none of the DVICE writers in any way think that SOPA or PIPA are good pieces of legislation. An opinion piece we ran last week, "SOPA: Who's really responsible?," written by Stewart, seemed to leave a lot of you thinking that we thought there was a bright side to either bill. We don't.
The most thought-provoking point that Stewart is making, to me, is that piracy isn't only organizations with draconian methods such as the RIAA that are easy to hate. I've personally been clear on this matter here on this website, though it's something that can definitely be expounded upon further: piracy is most effectively fought with better services, not with digital punishments (or protections, even).
A lot of you also rightly questioned DVICE's connection to Syfy, which owns DVICE, and which is in turn owned by NBC (owned by Comcast) and so on and so forth, and said that we must support SOPA and PIPA because we're connected to a media company. Well, we're also reporters with a mandate from Syfy to serve you and the news first, and our editorial is not influenced by factors external to DVICE.
Everything you see on this website passes over my desk and no one else's. When we do write posts that line up with Syfy, etc, we're very clear about it, such as during the network's Superhero Week (linked because I'm proud of the posts we put up and the awesome artwork that was done up by Josh Ellingson).
If you ever have any concerns small or great, you can always reach us by way of the comments, our Twitter, Facebook or directly to the editor — me — at editor at dvice dot com. Just address it to Kevin and say you're a reader. I read every email we get.