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ACTA still keeping everyone in the dark

The Ministry of Economic Development refused to reveal draft text of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement at a briefing in Wellington today.

Ministry of Economic Development (MED) spokesperson George Wardle said that they could not release the draft text of the treaty as all parties to the negotiation had agreed to keep it confidential. He also refused to say who in New Zealand they had consulted with and refused to reveal what New Zealand was arguing for. The MED is working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) representing New Zealand’s interests in the negotiations.

While no draft text has been officially released, leaks have shown that it has gone far beyond anti-counterfeiting to be a general rewrite of the rules of copyright in the name of international harmonisation. New Zealand has already been through a small-scale version of this with the attempts to insert a “three accusations and you’re out” policy into section 92a of our copyright law. Section 92a was defeated by a broad coalition of artists, internet users and others, led by the Creative Freedom Foundation.

Thomas Beagle, spokesperson for Tech Liberty, said, “Section 92a could be defeated because it followed our normal democratic process. ACTA is an attempt to work around this, it’s being negotiated in secret to avoid opposition. This secrecy is anti-democratic – it’s not how we do things in an open society like New Zealand.”

Other international agreements concerning copyright have been negotiated in the open. For example, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) administers 24 international treaties, each of which was developed in an open process. When asked why ACTA was not part of WIPO or WTO negotiations, Wardle responded: “Main participants can’t get traction.”

MFAT negotiator Peter Ferguson claims that New Zealand is pushing for the process to be more transparent: “We’re saying let’s be as up front as we can, other countries are reluctant.”

ACTA has been linked to the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement. Some fear that this free trade agreement will be used in an attempt to force New Zealand to sign up to ACTA as the cost of admittance.

David Zanetti, Tech Liberty, “We’re not opposed to copyright. Copyright law may need to be reformed to adjust to the new realities of the digital age, but changes to the law must be done in an open and accountable fashion with everyone having a say.”

Thomas Beagle, Tech Liberty, “If ACTA can’t be negotiated in the open, New Zealand should have no part in it. Secrecy is the enemy of democracy and good government. New Zealand should withdraw from the ACTA negotiations until they are opened up for scrutiny.”

Further coverage of this morning’s briefing, from which media were excluded, is here.
For more information on Tech Liberty’s views about ACTA please see the article ACTA and the New Copyright Deal.