This week, representatives from various nations will gather in Guadalajara, Mexico to discuss the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, or ACTA.
ACTA is an agreement being negotiated by several countries, including Australia, Canada, the European Union, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, United Arab Emirates, and the United States. The main objective of ACTA is to put “in place international standards for enforcing intellectual property rights in order to fight more efficiently the growing problems of counterfeiting and piracy.”
One of the intents of the agreement is to stop illegal file sharing on the Internet.
There are, of course, convincing arguments to be made for addressing illegal file sharing. The Canadian Record Industry Association (CRIA) – the organization that represents the interests of the Canadian sound recording industry – claims file sharing in Canada costs the industry $100 million annually, and the RCMP has stated that they are powerless to stop it. The recording industry internationally has noted important drops in income, jobs, and new artists signed, and has attributed this to illegal file sharing.
Some aspects of ACTA, including lack of transparency and secrecy surrounding its negotiation, have raised the ire of many people. A contentious item expected to be on the table is the so-called “three strikes” approach to piracy.
There are many flavours of the three strikes scheme, but the concept is that suspected illegal file-sharers would be met with graduated responses from their Internet Service Provider (ISP). They would first be sent a warning email, then a letter if they continue. The final strike would result in an appearance before a judge or tribunal. The judge or tribunal could impose a fine, or suspend their access to the Internet for a period of time.
The idea of a three strikes law is gaining traction in many countries. France has recently adopted the loi Création et Internet which imposes such a three-strikes regime. Britain’s government is considering the Digital Economy Bill which may include similar provisions. New Zealand has been considering such a regime since 2008.
It’s not the only route to follow, however. Other countries, such as Spain, have opted to not go down the disconnection path, but rather attempt to penalise websites that permit illegal file sharing. Germany, home to the world’s most popular ccTLD (.DE), has decided not to go down the three strikes road, reasoning that the approach would be at odds with the country’s privacy laws.
What are some of the implications of taking such an approach?
Imagine that your 14-year-old son downloads music illegally. Your entire household could potentially be kicked off the Internet for an extended period of time. This means no access to banking online, no access to government services, no email, no access to work for many. As we move more and more to a digital-based economy, what are the consequences of penalising possibly thousands of average people by denying them access to the Internet?
I think we also need to consider the effect such a prescriptive, top down approach to regulate the Internet would have. The Internet is, by its very nature, generative, creative and organic. To start imposing measures such as this could challenge the very ‘spirit’ with which it was created. It’s also this creative and organic nature that would present one of the biggest challenges to such a law: put up a barrier on the Internet such as monitoring traffic for illegal downloads, and there’ll be legions of people looking for – and finding – ways around it.
Finally, the costs of monitoring for illegal activity and enforcing these rules will no doubt add costs for ISPs, which in turn will be passed on to the consumer. We need to be careful about doing anything that may have the unintended consequence of raising the price for Internet access in a country that already has some of the most expensive access in the world.
CIRA’s vision for Canadians is to have minimal barriers to get online, where they have the opportunity to participate in an Internet that is a generative, creative and organic environment for the benefit of all. Let’s make sure we don’t do anything that ends up having unintended negative consequences.
With regard to the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, what do you think Canada needs to consider?