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ACTA Action, Part 1

ACTA Action, Part 1

ACTA is gaining support from countries around the world. But opponents to the agreement have been vocal as well. There also exist some common misconceptions about ACTA. "One thing people think ACTA does is it compels countries to force their ISPs to basically snoop on their users, to snitch on them, to give up details to rights holders who launch civil suits," said journalist David Meyer. "That's not actually true."

By David Vranicar
02/17/12 5:00 AM PT

With SOPA and PIPA on the back burner (at least for now), ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, has become the world's eminent piece of online piracy legislation. A slew of countries, including the U.S., have signed the agreement, but skepticism rages on. There have been protests throughout Europe, threats from Anonymous and resentment from Web users the world over.

To get a better idea of what's going on, TechNewsWorld hosts a multi-part podcast about what ACTA is and what it might mean moving forward.

In this podcast, we chat with David Meyer, a freelance journalist for ZDNet, BBC News, The Guardian and others. Meyer dissects the language, evolution and future of ACTA.


Listen to the podcast (12:34 minutes).

TechNewsWorld: ACTA is designed to get countries from around the world on the same page when it comes to copyright infringement and enforcement. It has become quite the international story of late -- there have been huge protests in Poland, a big petition in the U.S. There was a European Parliament resignation over the ACTA issue.

So we are going to be taking a closer look at what ACTA is and what it entails for the countries that are signing on.

To do so, we're going to be talking with David Meyer, who is a freelance journalist. He writes often for ZDNet UK, which looks at all things technology Visit the VMware Tech Center. David, thanks a lot for taking the time to chat, I appreciate it.

David Meyer:: It's a pleasure.

TNW: You did a really good job breaking down the nuts-and-bolts of ACTA at ZD Net UK in an article, "ACTA: Facts, misconceptions and questions ." One of the things that I liked was you talked about some of the semantic ambiguity and one of the things you touched on is how ACTA is designed to prohibit copyright piracy on a "commercial scale." And then you go on to say that commercial scale is largely undefined.

What do you take that to mean when this agreement talks about "commercial scale" issues.

Meyer: The agreement refers to the commercial scale issue twice. The first time it's trying to, you know, stress that commercial scale is really about people who are trying to make money out of this as opposed to small-scale people just sharing. But at the same time, it's criteria for what "commercial scale" constitutes, include making money off it at all. So off just that point alone you could be looking at somebody who has a blog, let's say, which carries some copyright-infringing material on it, and because that blog has Google Ads, and the proprietor of the blog is making maybe a few dollars off it, that could qualify as commercial scale.

It also then has a specific digital section which talks about, well, it basically equates "commercial scale" with "widespread distribution" on the Internet. And that's what the Internet is for, that's what the Internet does: It distributes in a widespread way. So both of the descriptions are problematic, potentially problematic, for small-scale violators as well as those who genuinely are trying to profit off the work of others.

TNW: Have these ambiguities been an issue for lawmakers or for people who are trying to judge the validity of ACTA? I mean, do people get caught up in how these things really aren't defined?

Meyer: The wordings that are used in ACTA are the result of very lengthy negotiations with one side pushing and the other pulling. None of these wordings are by accident. If something is ambiguous, chances are somebody wanted it to be a pretty broad definition. Some things, equally, are pretty meaningless.

One thing people think ACTA does is it compels countries to force their ISPs to basically snoop on their users, to snitch on them, to give up details to rights holders who launch civil suits. That's not actually true. It used to be the case that that was in ACTA, but crucially, a "shall" has become a "may" in the wording of it. So that whole section is pretty much rendered meaningless. I wouldn't call that ambiguity, as such, but it is an example of how the wording is a very precise result of the negotiations that have taken place.

ACTA Action, Part 2


David Vranicar is an American-born journalist who, after a year in China, is currently living in Europe. He has written for a variety of publications, including Deadspin, The Copenhagen Post, The Kansas City Star and The Earth Times. When not trying to find intersections between the tech industry and the world at large, he is writing a book and tweeting @davidvranicar.


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