Thursday, 23 February 2012

You're Under Arrest for Using the Internet!

How would you feel if you typed a search term on Google on only to be greeted by the words Access denied. The information you are trying to access is protected by copyright. 

Or worse still, you popped into your local chemist to buy some paracetamol, only to be told cheaper versions are no longer in circulation, so you are forced to fork out an eye-watering sum.

I can guess how you would feel: incredibly bewildered.

Caution: before you wave off the scenario as fiction, think again. If the international copyright treaty, ACTA, is passed, it could spell the end of easy access to information as you know it.  

 ACTA – Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement

ACTA is an international trade agreement negotiated by the European Union, the United States, Japan, Canada, South Korea, Australia, Mexico, Morocco, Singapore as well as a few other countries, whose aim is to enforce copyright and tackle counterfeited goods.

Acta has been under negotiation – almost all in secret – since June 2008. Its drafters say it is needed to harmonise international standards to protect the rights of those who produce music, movies, pharmaceuticals, fashion goods, and a range of other products that often fall victim to piracy and intellectual property theft.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimates that more than $250 billion is lost every year to pirated goods. In Europe, for example, more than €8 billion is lost annually through counterfeit goods entering the market. Inevitably, this affects the competitiveness of indigenous businesses. 

The Argument Against ACTA

Online lobbyist and campaigners have been kicking against the treaty. They argue that strict controls of copyright will exclude people from the internet and block access to generic drugs, especially in developing countries. The key arguments put forward are:

  •  ACTA will stifle free speech. Under the agreement, Internet Service Providers will be legally responsible for what their users do online. Anti-ACTA campaigners believe ISPs will be turned into “Private Copyright Police & Judges”, heavily censoring their networks.  
  • Health care will suffer as large corporations will have the power to block the manufacture of generic drugs.
 ‘Fog of Information’

On Wednesday the European Commission approached Europe’s highest court (The European Court of Justice) to decide whether it would be violating any fundamental rights if it adopted ACTA. Protests broke out across Europe earlier in the month over the bid to implement ACTA in the EU. So far 22 out of 27 member states have signed up. However, countries like Germany and the Netherlands have refused to sign the agreement in its current form. Without the consent of all 27 members, the EU cannot ratify the treaty.  
  EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht said on Wednesday that an opinion from the European court of justice would clear what he called the "fog of misinformation" surrounding ACTA. He said:
"This debate must be based upon facts and not upon the misinformation or rumour that has dominated social media sites and blogs in recent weeks...
  "Acta will not censor websites or shut them down; Acta will not hinder freedom of the internet or freedom of speech."
He said the agreement simply asks internet providers to co-operate with national authorities to crack down on online piracy, for example by cutting off internet access to users who illegally download music or films if that is part of the legal framework in that country.
"Intellectual property is Europe's main raw material, but the problem is that we currently struggle to protect it outside the EU. This hurts our companies, destroys jobs and harms our economies," De Gucht said.

 If both sides are crying foul, how do we resolve the issue? Are the fears of the campaigners real or imagined? Below Uchenna Ugwu, a legal expert on trade related aspects of intellectual property gives her verdict:

“The problem is that intellectual property is a double edged sword; anywhere that it is implemented it also has social effects. While the copyright holder will consider it illegal for anyone to have access to information online, the truth is that the majority of those that access such information online are unable to use the information to produce anything else. 

You and I are not ‘copying’ the material per se to write our own books or songs, but simply to learn a little more. Such persons cannot even afford the authors books/literature. Hence copyright is not really affected. Similarly, if a person cannot afford more expensive patented medicine, a cheaper generic version should not be denied to them. But this is what this agreement if ratified that is what it will do to you.

“Furthermore you have rights as well, the right to freedom of expression, the right to life, the right to privacy. None of your rights as a ‘User’ of intellectual goods were mentioned or discussed, only those of the copyright holder.

 It must be pointed out that ACTA removes legal safeguards that protect Internet Service Providers from liability for the actions of their subscribers in effect giving ISPs no option but to comply with privacy invasions. In addition, ACTA would also facilitate privacy violations by trademark and copyright holders against private citizens suspected of infringement activities without any sort of legal due process. Here is a good example: under ACTA’s ‘Border Measures’ officials at borders can conduct random searches of laptops, MP3 players, and cellular phones for illegally downloaded or "ripped" music and movies. Travellers with infringing content would be subject to a fine and may have their devices confiscated or destroyed.
Indeed only the huge monopolies setting inflammatory prices on goods were called to discuss the agreements provisions. 

My suggestion is that we either keep a watch out against ACTA, or else ACTA will make our daily lives unrecognizable!”


  1. My suspicion is that this is driven by the Wikileaks scandal. The reality is that the Internet is very difficult and expensive to police, it doesn't matter what you do, people will find a way to get round it.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Naija4Life. I didn't actually think of it from the wikileaks angle, that's interesting. But these people mean serious business. ACTA follows on the heels of SOPA (stop online piracy act) and PIPA (Protect IP act). I don't think the expense is a hindrance to them right now. They are determined to police info that seeps onto the net, and with the help of ISPs, I think they could. Thank God for the campaigners!

    2. Naija4Life this is the third attempt that they are making at passing a law to sacrifice civil liberties so as to maximize commercial gain. I doubt if the Wikileaks scandal led to it, as that represents a very small percent of the vast scale of the internet. Let me put it this way: 'the internet is too big to let anyman or set of people be in control'! Can you imagine one man being in control of the sun? The person will have too much control over people's lives. the same goes for the internet. Until an alternative technology for communication is formed, na so e be!

  2. I think we need a measured and balanced debate on the real effects of this bill -ACTA. At the moment what we are getting from the anti-ACTA brigade is nothing more than scaremongering, intellectually-deficient rhetoric designed to mislead and misinform the masses into believing their scenario of the death of freedom of speech and expression on the internet.The anti-ACTA lobby unfortunately, is manned by the usual suspects - band wagon career protesters, leftwing doom mongers, excremist human rights campaignera driven and presided by a left wing feral press , A cursory glance at the plethora of anti-ACTA petitions reveals the skewered and one sided nature of their protests.In reality ACTA largely seeks to put an end to wholesale copyright fraud while safeguarding the integrity of intellectual property. My opinion is, only those committing acts of copyright infringement need to worry.

    1. Sorry I may sound rude but that's all BS Will. This might be the end of the internet as we know it. The cooperations are at it again trying to take every inch of freedom away. Remember how free and relaxing air travel used to be. Or even border crossing? Now you literally have to give away your family roots to apply for a visa and basically appear naked to the security at the airport in order to travel.

      On thing is for sure, the fight for control is on and it's going to be a hell of a fight. The internet is too vast to be controlled and I really hope the populous wins this one even though i doubt it

    2. Wow, Will! You certainly deserve a gong for your grandiloquence. I think it's nice to have shades of opinion. I can't agree with you on this occasion, in as much as I appreciate your comment. The arguments put forward by the legal experts and campaigners are anything but intellectually deficient. They have been put together through years of study. I'd suggest a read like A. Shaw's 'The Problem with the Anti-Counterfeiting Agreement' (2003). Thanks for making Fresh Angle's answer board a lot livelier!

    3. Chuks, you've made a highly valid point. The subtle, covert tightening on freedom of speech is getting worse by the day. Only God knows what this world is turning to. Thanks a mil for your comment.

    4. While I was not formerly aware that you are a jazz musician Will, I am tempted to believe so because of THE WORDS YOU ADOPTED. Words that are blowing a lot of wind>
      Let's review them one step at a time: You ask for a 'measured and balanced' debate? For a measure to be balanced it must be both legal, economic, political, social and environmental. This is a multi-faceted debate that affects not just the rights to human dignity and expression, but will leave people's brains without adequate input as well. Thus stifling creativity and innovation.Will, how can a measure be balanced if it is only one sided? It seems that you did not read the article. Only a few countries were invited to initial ACTA negotiations by USA and Japan. An initial attempt that they made to initiate SOPA and PINTA here in Europe failed. The latter doesn't amount to 'scaremongering' or 'rhetoric'. This is an alarm bell that requires resonating.

    5. Having seen that you doubt the veracity of the legal opinion expressed by the anti-ACTA campaigners, let me give you some opinions by the court. Then you may walk into the Court and tell his Justice "I am afraid but all you have stated is absolute rubbish!"
      E.I.M v Microsoft. In its decision, the court held that where the copyright holder is in a monopolistic position, this may justify limiting a copyright holder’s entitlement to prevent parallel imports of a product (EIM v Microsoft, IIC Vol. 37, 5/2006, at 628-629.)
      In the Courts words: “Microsoft’s monopoly in the local market for PC operating systems joined by its copyright ‘monopoly’ creates a situation of ‘double’ monopoly that would allow Microsoft to perfect its dominance over the market and eliminate competition. As such the Court suggested that the relevant provision of the Israeli Copyright Act be interpreted narrowly, so as to prevent anti-competitive practices by copyright holders.

    6. Also a patent affects a country even when it does not import a product under ACTA or the TRIPS Agreement. So you do not want to import the finished product, but wish to import the contents to mix your own product more cheaply? The ingredients may also be patented.
      The exception provided to developing countries under paragraph 6 of the Doha Declaration does not apply under ACTA.
      When put in a similar position Mozambique had to put forward a compulsory license (Compulsory licence No. 01/MIC/04)
      In this case the Government of Mozambique granted a Compulsory licence to Pharco Mocambique Lda for the local manufacture of the 'triple compound' of lamivudine, stavudine and nevirapine. Three reasons were put forward for this: triple compounds are not marketed in Mozambique by international patent owners [this stipulation does not offend Article 27(1) TRIPS which covers the granting of patents for all products or processes, but doesn’t give directions as to how such patented products/processes should be marketed], it was in the national interest to keep prices as low as possible, furthermore, the royalty due to patent owners under Mozambique law shall not exceed 2% of the total turnover of the mentioned product/s

    7. 'Wholeright copyright infringment'? There isn't any 'halfright' infringment.
      Well it's when you supposedly invent and they tell you that you are not permitted to 'invent' because it is under copyright, that's when you'll understand the gravity of what's going on Will.
      And you've just had me laughing when you talked of the 'safeguarding the integrity of the internet'. Go and have a look at history, IPR are granted by society for a short period for societal benefit. They are not granted to safeguard the monopolist, but to encourage innovation as a support to society, one last question Will,presuming that the fresherangle perspective is right, which do you think supports innovation and the society more? For Ministers and Western governments to be fighting over ACTA, this is a big deal, and do not decieve yourself elsewise!

    8. Wow, Dlaw. There's so much legal expertise at your finger tips. The point that really stood out for me is when a copyright holder is in a monopolistic position. Even if people are infringing copyright, many of these jauggernaut companies have already made millions and billions from their 'inventions'. I'd say live and let live. Thanks a mil for your full bodied comments.

  3. I think this could also be due to the easy accessibility of the internet, it is easy to pass on information, inform people of what is really going on and gives people various angles and perceptions to one story. We've seen this in the wiki leaks, the London riots and etc...

    1. Sorry, just one question Ag: what will you prefer? 'Easy access, information, and multiple dimensions'? (to borrow a few of your words) Or control on the levels suggested with no accessibility and information? And one thing that we (the public) should always keep in mind is that once these policies are put in place, they are not going to stop there, but will become more and more expensive/costly upon civil liberties until there are none left.

    2. Dlaw, thanks for your comment. I think what Ag is trying to get across, is some of the reasons for the whole brouhaha over copyrights & intellectual property. I don't think she's in support of the treaties.

      Oluchi Ugwu.

  4. Thanks for your comment, Ag. That's a very valid point. Didn't think of that. Commentators too agree that the Arab Spring was facilitated by the internet/social networks. If govts can control the net, they can also weaken the position of dissenters.

  5. Arab spring would not have been possible without freedom of speech via the internet; I think the developing countries will be hard hit if ACTA is implemented.

    Please how should we in the developing country contribute to anti ACTS campaign?


  6. Prof G! Many thanks for your comment. I still wonder if ACTA would be able to curb freedom of expression on the internet even if passed. There are a lot of online campaigns that you can join. I'm sure if you do a search on Google, you'll get a truckload of sites to sign up with.

  7. This ACTA rubbish is trash. I can't just imagine being policed on the way I use my internet; that can only amount to one thing - SLAVERY! Let's not be fooled, this policy is meant to control information into a single portal to the favour of those countries who made the call. They only seek to extend their modern day fiefdom; nothing more.

  8. Strong Self, long time no see! Indeed, the countries that are signing up to the treaty are those with huge monopolistic corporate dynasties. While competition is a good thing, it is crazy when the heavyweights want to muscle out every other interest under the guise of anti-counterfeiting. I agree, copyright holders should not be shortchanged but, come on, they are going a step too far. I appreciate your comment.

    1. Na so Oluchi. Other matters were just keeping me away from the Internet. Now I am back anyway. I totally agree with your submission. I think all these evil moves by the powerful few are just one of their devilish strategies to keep many under their controlled shackles. I am also of the belief that the rights of a copyright holder should not be rubbished. But see, we are in an age where contents sharing makes our world much more better and habitable. We are not domesticated animals living in restricted cages. ACTA be damned!

  9. Thanks, Strong Self. I'm with you on everything you wrote. Again, live and let live.

  10. The increased popularity of the internet indicated by researchers such as Murphy on, will end up being used as increased bondage of the population except issues such as ACTA are dealt with. This explains the reason behind inreased meetings by organisations like the ORG, ICTSD and SOAS to resist and make the public aware of such international IP regulation before it is too late.