US business groups praise NZ, US and six other countries for signing ACTA

US Chamber of Commerce and the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA) applaud signing of the controversial Agreement

The US Chamber of Commerce and the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA) both applauded the signing of the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) by representatives of the New Zealand, United States, Japan and five other governments in Tokyo on Saturday.

Representatives from Australia, Canada, Morocco, South Korea and Singapore also signed ACTA, an agreement to help each other enforceme intellectual property laws and work together on border enforcement of counterfeit goods. Representatives of the European Union and Switzerland were at the signing ceremony but did not sign the agreement, according to a press release from the Office of U.S. Trade Representative.

The signing of ACTA is a "big victory" for US businesses, workers, and industries that rely on intellectual property (IP), Mark Elliot, executive vice president of the Chamber's Global Intellectual Property Center, said in a statement. "This accord raises the bar on enforcement by improving cooperation among partners, harmonising how we confront IP theft, addressing IP theft online, and setting a positive example for nations that aspire to have strong IP enforcement regimes," he added.

The Chamber called on the negotiating countries to move quickly to put in place the enforcement processes in the agreement.

The agreement will extend the reach of SIIA's efforts to thwart counterfeit software, allowing the trade group to target foreign websites trafficking in infringing software, said Keith Kupferschmid, SIIA's senior vice president for intellectual property policy and enforcement. ACTA is a "major advancement" in international cooperation around IP enforcement, he said in a statement.

As in New Zealand, there has been fierce debate in the US over the signing of ACTA.

Critics of ACTA in the US have said the treaty could allow foreign organisations to target US companies and websites that don't comply with overseas copyright laws. Many critics questioned the secrecy of the ACTA negotiations, with countries talking for four years before releasing a working text of the deal in early 2010.

In September, some members of the European Parliament's legal affairs committee questioned whether ACTA is compatible with European law.

Last week, James Love and Krista Cox, with IP research and advocacy group Knowledge Ecology International, wrote that ACTA is incompatible with US law in dealing with injunctions and damages related to copyright infringement. ACTA does not include the same limitations on damages that US law does, they wrote, and the treaty allows for court injunctions in cases where US law doesn't, including paid advertisements in newspapers and magazines.

Public Knowledge, a digital rights group, called on US President Barack Obama's administration to make it clear that ACTA will not change US law, including protections for ISPs and websites in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. "We believe such a statement is necessary because there are still sufficient ambiguities in some parts of the agreement that could conflict with U.S. law," Gigi Sohn, president and cofounder of Public Knowledge, said last week.

The final version of ACTA is an improvement over earlier drafts, but the process of writing the agreement was "extremely flawed," Sohn said.

The eight countries signing the agreement called it a "significant achievement" in the enforcement intellectual property laws. "When it enters into force with all participants, the ACTA will formalise the legal foundation for a first-of-its-kind alliance of trading partners, representing more than half of world trade," the countries said in a joint statement.

Additional reporting by Computerworld NZ staff.

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