The empire strikes back; the U.S. government's holds secret plans to kill nonprofit torrent sites and increase user monitoring

The long running saga of litigation against The Pirate Bay has been well publicized and discussed depth at DailyTech. The Pirate Bay was slapped with conspiracy charges by the government of Sweden early this year, at the urging of the IFPI, the parent organization of the RIAA.  Under attack by IFPI lawyers and Swedish authorities, the sardonic pirate bay chaps told the IFPI lawyers to "screw themselves" and countersued for compensation for lost traffic.

Now Wikileaks has obtained a leaked copy of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), a shadowy bill that has been being discussed in Congress behind closed doors.  The new multi-lateral intellectual property measure is being pushed by Republican U.S. Trade Representative Susan C. Schwab, who designed much of it.  The ACTA bill is apparently supported by the U.S., the European Commission (well known for its recent fining of Microsoft), Japan, and Switzerland.

The third page, paragraph one contains a clause which is becoming known as the "Pirate Bay-killer".  It would criminalize non-profit facilitation of copyrighted information exchange on the internet.  The Pirate Bay is the largest of several torrent sites that operate on a nonprofit basis and do not provide copyright materials, but provide means to find them.  Critics argue that this is as bad as direct copyright infringement, but advocates point out The Pirate Bay also is used to find legitimate files and that similar accusations could be leveled against Google or virtually any search engine.

The new bill would place the internet under the firm grasp of international law authorities and industry officials.  ISPs operating within the U.S. and the involved nations would be forced to fully disclose consumer information.  Meanwhile, use of internet privacy tools would be greatly restricted and made illegal in many cases.

The plan details additional plans to expand the bills scope into developing nations, convincing them to join.

IP Justice, an international group directed from San Francisco group that fights for a just world intellectual property regime, is among the groups fighting the new measure.  They released a statement saying:

In 2007 a select handful of the wealthiest countries began a treaty-making process to create a new global standard for intellectual property rights enforcement, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). ACTA is spearheaded by the United States, the European Commission, Japan, and Switzerland — those countries with the largest intellectual property industries. Other countries invited to participate in ACTA’s negotiation process are Canada, Australia, Korea, Mexico and New Zealand. Noticeably absent from ACTA’s negotiations are leaders from developing countries who hold national policy priorities that differ from the international intellectual property industry.

After the multi-lateral treaty’s scope and priorities are negotiated by the few countries invited to participate in the early discussions, ACTA’s text will be “locked” and other countries who are later “invited” to sign-on to the pact will not be able to re-negotiate its terms. It is claimed that signing-on to the trade agreement will be "voluntary", but few countries will have the muscle to refuse an “invitation” to join, once the rules have been set by the select few conducting the negotiations.

The US is negotiating ACTA through the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR), an office within the Bush Administration that has concluded more than 10 “free trade” agreements in recent years, all of which require both the US and the other country to increase intellectual property rights enforcement measures beyond the international legal norms in the WTO-TRIPS Agreement.

As of 25 March 2008, no draft text has been published yet to provide the public with substance of the proposed international treaty. A “Discussion Paper on a Possible Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement” was reportedly provided to select lobbyists in the intellectual property industry, but not to public interest organizations concerned with the subject matter of the proposed treaty.

The ACTA push was launched October 23, 2007.  Among its other supporters in Congress, based on Congressional documents are Rep. Mary Bono (R-CA), Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA).

It appears the U.S. government and other member parties plan to push forward a finalized version of the agreement in July 2008 at the G-8 summit.  Clearly this is one of the most significant develops in online law and legislation in recent history.

"So, I think the same thing of the music industry. They can't say that they're losing money, you know what I'm saying. They just probably don't have the same surplus that they had." -- Wu-Tang Clan founder RZA

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