Wednesday 21 April 2010

ACTA is out

A draft (in PDF form) of ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, has been released by the European Commission. This is the first time any of us have been allowed "officially" to see a draft of the treaty as hitherto negotiations have been conducted in secret. As governments often remind us — if you have done nothing wrong you have nothing to hide — why the secrecy?

Inspired by leaked versions, the treaty has excited much opposition. For example from La Quadrature du Net, the EFF and many others. Michael Geist gives a very thorough analysis on his blog site for those inclined to dig deeper.

If you read the draft you will see that it is marked up with numerous possibilities, indicating differences of opinion between the national delegations. The draft coyly avoids telling us which those delegations might be, but a recently leaked draft may give a clue. I am fairly confident that an analysis of the various parties positions can be crowd-sourced so that we all know where to apply pressure.

This multiple choice nature of the draft makes it hard to analyse whether it is really good or bad or indeed what effect it will have at all. This is particularly so where there are two possible drafts: one stating what parties to the treaty "may" do (which means they need not) or "must" do (which means they certainly will). For example Article 2.2(2) on damages.

I leave a thorough analysis to others who have rather more time than I do, but a couple of points strike me as being of particular interest to the digital/internet environment:


The normal rule in English civil proceedings is that the damages are compensatory and intend to put you back in the position you would have been if the defendant had done no wrong (or not breached a contract or whatever). In some circumstances a claimant might be able to force a defendant to disgorge any gain they have made without a good lawful reason, or even to pay over any profits they have made as a result of their actions.

In the world of intellectual property this limitation does not operate. Many jurisdictions allow more compensation on top. For example s97(2) of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988, a court may award "such additional damages as the justice of the case may require", having particular regard not only to any benefit gained by the defendant but also to the "flagrancy" of the infringement. In the United States 17 USC 504 allows a copyright owner, where they have registered their copyright, to elect to receive "statutory damages" rather than actual damages and profits, at a minimum of $750 (but up to $30,000) per work infringed. The ludicrous effect of such damages is well known.

ACTA's proposed article 2.2(2) proves that the parties may or shall (which to be later determined) maintain a system of pre-established damages much like that of the US, as well as presumptions for determining the amount of damages. Such a presumption might be that the damages suffered for copying N works each of which would have made (if sold) a profit of p would be Np. Such a sum would almost always be more (probably much more) than the actual loss. There may (or shall) also be a provision for "additional damages".

It is quite possible that rights industries could make more money this way than they would if there were no infringement which would be a surprising outcome in any other field of law.

Criminal liability

Copyright infringement may be a criminal offence in the UK in essentially two circumstances: first where it is done in the course of business and second where it is done "to such an extent as to affect prejudicially the owner of the copyright" (I am simplifying this somewhat). Article 2.14 of ACTA suggests there should be criminal liability for infringement on a commercial scale, which is defined to include "significant wilful". I am unclear on what "wilful" means (perhaps readers can help) but that looks to me to increase the range of criminal liability.

Online infringement

The headline part of ACTA for me ought to be section 4 which concerns enforcement "in the digital environment". With the passage of the Digital Economy Act 2010 it may be we have seen the last of new attempts to legislate in this field in the UK for a few years. It may be that ACTA makes little difference to us except to provide the government of the day with political cover to push things a little further.

Article 2.18 requires that parties make available enforcement procedures that include "expeditious remedies to prevent infringement and remedies which constitute a deterrent to further infringement". So to protect and deter. The detail that results from this general requirement could be almost anything because the draft includes two main options, and many sub-options, that range from a less intrusive system of copyright control than we have in the UK to a system that goes much further. I find it difficult to give any kind of useful summary — if such a thing is even possible.

There are options to protect intermediate service providers though these may be predicated on the provider either taking proactive steps to prevent infringement (but not including monitoring) or responding properly to requests to block/take-down material or both. There are also provisions that may require legal protection of effective technological measures, though to what extent they will go further than those already imposed on us is unclear.


There's an awful lot more in there. I look forward to reading a wider analysis and to seeing what response the various campaigning organisations now adopt. Overall the treaty seems to be a mixture of unnecessary repetition of existing treaty arrangements (such as TRIPS or WCT) and overly draconian provisions. In my view the best outcome would be for the treaty to be abandoned, but I realise that is unlikely, so it might be time to focus more on the detail.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this Francis. In your closing remarks, have you any specific recommendations yet for what details we should be focussing on?

Proofreading notes (burn after reading):

Missing space in "examples97(2)".

Typo: "provisoin", "protecetion", "varoius".

Francis Davey said...

ACTA has moved on somewhat, so I'll leave any further comments to another post. Thank you for the proofreading notes, I would add "and many more".