ACTA: the basics, the controversies, and the future

At the end of January, 22 countries signed up to ACTA. But what is it, and how will it be affecting you? Simon Brew has been finding out.

The fact that, nearly four years later, an agreement is being signed tells its own story.

For and against

Sparing the bulk of what went on between 2008 and 2012, the arguments over ACTA have divided, inevitably, into two sides.

There are widespread fears that ACTA is a very blunt tool to deal with internet copyright issues.

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The case for ACTA is that it enables, in theory, more effective combating of copyright breaches, counterfeit goods, and less than scrupulous pharmaceutical products. It does it with the aid of a body that sits outside of existing international organisations, and effectively puts in place standards for the enforcement of intellectual property that don't fall apart when they reach a particular country's border.

Those against ACTA suggest that it's become far more than originally outlined. Many perceive it, because of its name, to be about physical goods and their counterfeiting, but the breadth of the agreement's content means that internet distribution is firmly on its radar. Not without some substance do opponents argue that it's bringing in civil liberties concerns with regards the internet, and there are widespread fears that ACTA is a very blunt tool to deal with internet copyright issues.

The European Commission insists this isn't the case. In particular, it argues that "ACTA is not about how we use the internet in our everyday lives".

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It is worth noting that one of the earlier drafts of the agreement included the ability to cut people off from the internet. Even in existing drafts, the onus seems to be on the internet service provider (ISP), with regards copyright matters, to take responsibility. In theory, we're back at ISPs taking on the role of the internet's police force. Were that to go ahead, the very least an end consumer could expect would be a bigger broadband bill.

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