Secretive counterfeiting treaty talks open up

Public outcry forces countries involved in the negotiations to make public next week a draft of the Anti-counterfeiting Trade Agreement

A controversial plan to crack down on online piracy and counterfeiting will be opened up to public scrutiny for the first time next week, when the negotiating text of a secret international copyright treaty will be made public, the European Commission said Friday.

Negotiations over the past two years have been conducted in secret. Leaks of the draft text have sparked a public outcry, mainly because of how the text deals with online copyright infringement.

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Countries involved in talks on the Anti-counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) agreed unanimously to make the documents available to the public at a meeting in New Zealand this week, the Commission said in a statement.

However, they don't plan to reveal their individual negotiating positions.

"In agreeing to release publicly this draft text in the particular circumstances of this negotiation, participants reaffirmed the importance of maintaining the confidentiality of their respective positions in trade negotiations," the Commission said.

The Commission has never commented directly about the leaked copies of the ACTA draft text but it has refuted claims that the treaty would force signatory countries to introduce a so-called graduated response rule that would ban copyright offenders from the Internet after a series of warnings.

In leaked texts seen by IDG, the draft treaty doesn't mandate the graduated-response approach but it does suggest that countries adopt such laws.

It also calls for Internet service providers to become liable for the content being distributed on their networks. Under existing E.U. laws, ISPs should not be held responsible for content such as illegally copied music or movies that are commonly distributed via peer-to-peer networks.

The Commission has always denied that the treaty would go this far. In Friday's statement it said ACTA "will not interfere with a signatory's ability to respect its citizens' fundamental rights and liberties."

The participants in the ACTA talks next meet in Switzerland in June. They aim to conclude the talks "as soon as possible in 2010." The Commission said that making the draft text public will help the countries to reach a final conclusion.

Participants include the U.S., E.U., Japan, Canada, Australia, South Korea, New Zealand, and Switzerland.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.