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Ireland and EU to sign controversial ACTA treaty tomorrow

The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement has come under fire after suggestions it could limit online freedoms.

IRELAND IS TO sign a controversial international agreement tomorrow which promises a major international crackdown on the trade of counterfeit goods – and illegal internet filesharing.

Irish representatives will sign the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) at a ceremony tomorrow – as will representatives from each of the other 26 European Union member states, and the EU itself.

Once the agreement is signed, it can then be formally ratified and adopted into law once it has been cleared by the European Parliament. The treaty will be signed tomorrow in Tokyo by Ireland’s ambassador to Japan, John Neary.

Although the treaty is primarily aimed at stopping the trade of counterfeited physical goods, it contains provisions which demand that participating countries offer equal protection and enforcement procedures against digital copyright infringement.

The deal – which is unrelated to the controversial ‘Irish SOPA’ legislation – has been criticised by many, including the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation, for its potential impact on privacy and freedom of expression.

Specifically, it sees member states agree to allow Internet Service Providers (ISPs) disclose a user’s information to a copyright holder, where the latter has a sufficient claim that the user is breaching their copyright.

No circumventing

It also says member states will have to offer “effective legal remedies” to ensure that anti-theft measures – such as the Digital Rights Management (DRM) protection on purchased music files – cannot be circumvented.

The clause could potentially mean that Apple, for example, would have to disable its MP3 recording facility in iTunes – because it could be used to remove the DRM protections from a piece of music purchased through its iTunes store.

Other critics of the treaty suggest that it will forbid the distribution of cheap generic drugs – because they would infringe the copyright of pharmaceutical companies whose research led to their discovery.

A European Commission spokesman said ACTA would not create new intellectual property rights, but would merely serve to enforce existing ones – and would not lead to constant monitoring of internet traffic.

Michele Neylon of Carlow-based internet hosting company Blacknight said the treaty could force internet hosts to deal directly with orders issued by copyright holders, instead of being able to ensure that such orders were handed down by a court.

“If we’ve been given a court order, fine – there’s no discussion, a judge has made a decision – but that’s not what happens, you don’t get your day in court.”

Neylon said it was a matter of “basic economics” that companies like his could not run up significant legal fees, ensuring that court procedures were followed, when those legal fees vastly exceeded the money it received to host sites in the first place.

He added that the current Irish legal situation, where there is no formal definition of ‘fair use’, meant even the likes of personal blogs could be subject to takedown orders if they included a company’s logo without permission, for example.

$200bn industry

The agreement is aimed at clamping down on the trade of counterfeit consumer and electronic goods, which the OECD believes was worth some $200 billion in 2007 – the equivalent of around 2 per cent of all legal trade worldwide that year.

All Irish government Departments will have to confirm that Ireland has the legal means to implement ACTA before it can be formally adopted.

A government spokesperson said, however, that Ireland did not expect to have to amend its current legislation – believing that the provisions of the deal were already accounted for in Irish law.

She added that negotiations on the deal had included representatives from the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and members from Ireland’s permanent representation at the EU in Brussels.

News of ACTA being ratified by Poland earlier this week drew the wrath of Anonymous and another group called Polish Underground, which attacked the websites of many government departments in protest at Poland’s signature of the treaty.

The United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Morocco – all of which took part in negotiating the treaty – signed up to ACTA in October of last year.

The European Union and Switzerland said at the time that they would offer their support for the treaty and would sign it as soon as was practicable.

Other interested countries can sign up to the deal before May 2013.

In full: The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, ACTA (PDF) >

Read: Hackers take down Polish government websites in ACTA attack

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