Australian internet service providers and consumer groups are gearing up to fight the powerful US copyright lobby over a proposed new international trade agreement.
The agreement, known as the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), aims to establish a new intellectual property rights enforcement regime to crack down on electronic counterfeiting and piracy. New Zealand is one of the countries involved in its negotiation.
ACTA has attracted widespread criticism from privacy and civil liberties groups overseas who claim it will give customs agencies the power to randomly search and seize the iPods and laptops of travellers at the border on the basis they may contain content that breaches copyright laws.
It is understood that negotiations to form a new coalition of Australian groups to oppose the enforcement scheme are now underway, with participants likely to include the Australian Internet Industry Association, Australian Digital Alliance, Australian Libraries Association and the Australian Consumers Association.
Sources close to the discussions say the new group could be launched as early as this week, a move that would substantially escalate opposition just weeks before the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade starts sensitive negotiations with proponents Japan, the European Community, the United States and Switzerland at the G8 forum in Switzerland.
But DFAT has rejected claims that Australia's participation in ACTA could result in iPods being searched and seized at airports.
A DFAT spokesman says that airport security officials would not obtain additional powers under the proposed ACTA agreement. Customs already had a role enforcing intellectual property rights for commercial goods, the spokesman says.
Data contained in travellers' personal electronic devices was not the target of the new regime, he says. Rather, the new enforcement scheme aimed to identify traffickers of commercial quantities of copyrighted material.
Privacy groups have accused participants in the ACTA negotiations, including Australia, of operating under a veil of secrecy after some documents outlining key measures of the scheme were allegedly leaked and posted on the internet in recent months.
— Australian Financial Review