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Secret Trade Agreement To Criminalise Copyright Infringement

Posted by Andrew at 7:49 AM on July 6, 2010

According to La Quadrature du Net and based on both official and  leaked documents, secret trade negotiations for ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) by the EU Presidency includes negotiating criminal penalties for counterfeiters and copyright-infringers, bypassing the normal legislative system and significantly increasing the scope of “trade agreements”.

My understanding is that within the UK counterfeiting goods and copyright infringment are generally considered to be civil offences and imprisonment is not normally an option (cf OiNK).  However, criminal offences can be punished by imprisonment.  Of course, I’m not a lawyer and I’ve no idea what other countries do.

To be fair, the criminal part of the legislation is clearly aimed at large scale copying of goods and films as it mentions ”commercial scale” in a number of places (article 2.14).  There’s a certain part of me that says criminal gangs and organisations need to be dealt with by criminal penalties which is arguably a good thing.

However, this isn’t the point.  ACTA is a trade agreement and should not be dictating legal penalties.  The ACTA agreement is negotiated between the US, EU, Australia, Canada, Japan, Mexico, South Korea and Switzerland, so it’s impact will be widespread and is likely to be adopted into law with little or no debate from countries’ elected representatives.  While we might agree with criminal penalties for criminal gangs, what will it be next time?  Prison for file-sharing teenagers?

Fortunately, the UK Government does appear to have come out against the change in the legislation.  In an interview for ComputerActive, a spokesman for the UK’s Intellectual Property Office said, “These are not appropriate penalties for copyright infringement.  Acta should not introduce new intellectual property laws or offences. Instead, it should provide a framework to better enforce existing laws.  The UK is opposed to the creation of new criminal offences at UK or EU level through Acta.”

The latest round of ACTA negotiation finished last week in Lucerne, Switzerland so further news may be forthcoming.