ACTA progress in Mexico, but no consensus

Calls for transparency make little headway

Only partial progress can be expected on the contentious question of penalties for digital intellectual property infringement at the upcoming Wellington meeting on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, scheduled for April.

George Wardle at the Ministry of Economic Development, one of New Zealand’s two chief negotiators, estimates that it will be six months before the “digital enforcement” section of the agreement is settled.

Parties only got “about halfway” through the draft texts on that matter at their meeting in Guadalajara, Mexico last week, he says.

“There are three different proposals on the table on matters of digital enforcement and safe harbours,” Wardle says and a fourth is in the process of formulation by one of the parties to the negotiations. They vary in substance and possible implications for participating nations, he says.

“We made some progress."

Last year an MED spokesman close to the negotiations expressed confidence that the law being formulated under Section 92A of New Zealand’s Copyright Act would answer the demands of ACTA.

“We’re mindful to ensure that the measures New Zealand is developing in s92A will not be impacted,” Wardle said today.

Even the scope of ACTA’s intellectual property coverage is not yet settled. Some are in favour of extending it beyond trademarks and copyright to include patents as well.

New Zealand’s Patents Bill is awaiting a report back from Select Committee, with open-source software lobbies in particular apprehensive about software continuing to be patentable.

More transparency in regard to the negotiations – long criticised as too secretive – was discussed at Guadalajara, but again no consensus was reached, Wardle says. Some national representatives, including NZ’s, are in favour of disclosing some of the documents from ACTA meetings and apparently they have won some ground.

“A number of parties previously opposed to sharing documents seem to have pulled back from that position,” Wardle says, but others are still insisting that the discussions be protected by non-disclosure agreements.

Between the formal meetings, parties are continuing to discuss ways of achieving more openness, Wardle says.

Which countries are taking a hard line on non-disclosure?

“I can’t tell you, because of the non-disclosure agreements,” he says.

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