Mythbusters: ACTA

Ever since the Internet blackout to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act and the PROTECT IP Act numerous legislative proposals and treaties from the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA)–, which was signed into law by the President last year, and is now being debated in Europe -- to cybersecurity related proposals having nothing whatsoever to do with protection of intellectual property, have been labeled the “new SOPA”. “SOPA’d” is reportedly even becoming a verb on the Hill (as in don’t get SOPA’d). While this may be an effective rallying cry to bring the agreement to the attention of recent IP activists, it obscures the truth about the agreement.

The debate surrounding ACTA in the EU is a prime example of this phenomena. IP skeptics have labeled ACTA “SOPA’s evil twin” but even opponents of ACTA, including journalists at Ars Technica who have followed the ACTA negotiations closely and have criticized the negotiating process and approach of ACTA, have publicly stated that the comparisons with SOPA and PROTECT IP are totally false. With all of the misinformation surrounding ACTA, we have taken some time to clear up often-repeated myths about the agreement.

Myth: ACTA was negotiated in secret

Fact: Many of the complaints about lack of transparency of the negotiating process stem from the fact that USTR shared drafts of negotiating texts with members of its Industry Trade Advisory Committees. Consultation with ITACs is a long standing part of US trade negotiation practices. Sixteen different ITACs exist to cover the panoply of manufacturing and services sectors in the United States. ITACs were established as a result of the International Trade Act of 1974, in order to ensure that the US Government consults with affected private sector commercial interests when formulating its trade policy. ITAC advisors are charged with providing advisory opinions to the USTR and Department of Commerce on how various trade agreements promote the economic interests of the United States, and whether particular proposals provide for equity and reciprocity for affected industry sectors. ITAC members are appointed jointly by the Secretary of Commerce and the USTR for a charter of two years, and must obtain a security clearance. U.S citizens, who are not full time employees of a governmental entity, and who represent a U.S. entity that trades internationally (or an association of such entities) are eligible to apply, without regard to political affiliation. Members are appointed based on individual knowledge and balance of industry representation in the ITACs.

In addition to the ITAC process, USTR also provided access to copies of negotiating texts (on the same terms as texts were provided to ITAC members) to interested members of the public representing consumers, and entities not currently serving on ITACs. At least 42 individuals representing a variety of interests including Public Knowledge, Center for Democracy and Technology, library groups, CCIA, CEA, Google, eBay, Dell and Intel participated in the discussions of the agreement through this additional process.

Finally, there was significant press coverage and publicly available information about the U.S negotiating position throughout the process.