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.

It's not just the content of ACTA that's caused concern, though. The manner in which it has been put together has resulted in loud complaints. Most of the negotiations, for example, have been done behind closed doors, and to this stage, the citizens of the 22 countries that have signed up to date have not been able to scrutinise it and register any form of protest.

For businesses, many would hope that their copyrighted work would be afforded an extra level of protection, although whether that proves to be the case is debatable.

As Kader Arif said when he quit his post: "I have faced never-before-seen manoeuvres from the right wing of this Parliament to impose a rushed calendar before public opinion could be alerted, thus depriving the Parliament of its right to expression and of the tools at its disposal to convey citizens' legitimate demands".

Whilst the public at large hasn't been consulted, though, a 2009 freedom of information request revealed that Time Warner, eBay, Google, Dell and Sony Pictures were amongst those who had been sent a draft of the agreement. Furthermore, a year before that, a discussion paper had been sent to Wikileaks, which published it. An official draft was eventually published in 2010.

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So how will it affect users, and how will it affect business? Both good questions, but both without a definitive answer. Right now, ACTA moves onto the next stage in its life, where the European Parliament has to ratify it.

Assuming that it leaves the text pretty much in tact, and that individual nations adopt the agreement (which in itself it no given), then its overall impact is still variable. For businesses, many would hope that their copyrighted work would be afforded an extra level of protection, although whether that proves to be the case is debatable. However, for those whose businesses have been damaged by piracy to some degree, the thinking is that there is at least some recourse here.

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