Groups praise US, seven other countries for signing ACTA

Critics of the international treaty still question its compatibility with U.S. and E.U. laws

The U.S. 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 U.S., Japan, and six other governments in Toyko on Saturday.

Representatives from Australia, Canada, Morocco, New Zealand, South Korea and Singapore also signed ACTA, an agreement to help each other enforcement 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 U.S. 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, harmonizing 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.

Critics of ACTA in the U.S. have said the treaty could allow foreign organizations to target U.S. 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 U.S. law in dealing with injunctions and damages related to copyright infringement. ACTA does not include the same limitations on damages that U.S. law does, they wrote, and the treaty allows for court injunctions in cases where U.S. law doesn't, including paid advertisements in newspapers and magazines.

Public Knowledge, a digital rights group, called on U.S. President Barack Obama's administration to make it clear that ACTA will not change U.S. 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 formalize 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.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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