As the ninth round of negotiations on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) comes to a conclusion and the White House has made clear its support for ACTA as part of its Joint Strategic Plan on Intellectual Property Enforcement, opponents of the initiative have become increasingly vocal. The critics range from those who fundamentally reject the idea of intellectual property rights, to those who worry about empowering private sector actors to enforce digital IP rights, to those who feel that their civil liberties and privacy are under attack. Most notably an international coalition of critics, led by vociferous anti-IP rights groups, has signed on to a public letter condemning ACTA as “hostile to the public interest.” While the most recent draft of ACTA may still need refinement, the overall results of the agreement would be greater protection for intellectual property rights, a direct benefit for American companies, American jobs, and American consumers.
ACTA traces its roots back to 2007 when various countries came together to begin negotiations on a plurilateral treaty to improve “global standards for the enforcement of intellectual property rights” and “to more effectively combat trade in counterfeit and pirated goods.” Current participants in the negotiations include Australia, Canada, the European Union, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland and the United States. The goal of ACTA is to better protect intellectual property rights by increasing international cooperation, establishing best practices for enforcement and ensuring a strong international legal framework to combat piracy.
One of the major objections to ACTA up to now has been about process rather than substance. Critics contend its negotiations have been conducted primarily behind closed doors. For example, critics recently labeled ACTA “the predictably deficient product of a deeply flawed process.” However, in their defense, the participants have reacted to calls for more transparency, albeit slowly. In April 2010 negotiators released draft text for public comment. More recently, during the most recent round of negotiations the Swiss government hosted meetings for outside participants to share their views on the initiative. Moreover, while the negotiations were conducted privately, many of the negotiating partners have provided opportunities for public comment. In the United States, for example, the USTR has provided opportunities for public comment and has provided updates about the ongoing negotiations. Similarly, the European Commission has organized at least one meeting this year to provide a forum for stakeholders to voice their views and concerns about ACTA.
To be fair, without absolute transparency or finalized text it is difficult for supporters or detractors to argue meaningfully about the fin