A three-year-long behind battle over how far the U.S. and other countries should go in using trade agreements to protect against piracy and counterfeiting ended Monday as the text of a proposed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement was released by negotiators for 40 countries.
The 21-page agreement – pushed by movie studios and the recording industry -- would create procedures for resolving intellectual-property disputes in countries that include the U.S., Japan, Mexico, Australia, Canada and the European Union.
Notably missing from the talks is China, which is the leading source of pirated goods. With Wednesday's move, the countries are clearly hoping to use their collective leverage to bring China to the table.
Negotiations took place in Tokyo.
The agreement gives customs officials the authority to seize any pirated materials -- from movies, music and books to branded products -- without a formal court order.
It also requires countries to provide legal procedures to "permit effective action against any act of infringement of intellectual property rights,” in ways that would be a serious deterrent to piracy and counterfeiting.
Each country also will have to provide judicial procedures in which content owners could assert their rights and be paid fair and equitable payment for violations.
“These procedures shall not be unnecessarily complicated or costly or entail unreasonable time limits or unwarranted delays,” states the agreement, which would force several countries to alter their laws.
The European Parliament needs to approve the agreement, but the U.S. and other countries – Canada and Mexico among them -- negotiated it as an executive agreement, which means it doesn’t need to be ratified.
European countries and the United States had differed over the language of the agreement -- with American officials balking at including food and fashion items under the enforcement pacts.
Hollywood hopes to use the language to block websites and products being produced with pirated content.
The agreement is separate from legislation introduced last month into the U.S. Senate by a bipartisan group of senators headed by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. That legislation, now going through committee, would make it far easier for the government to shut down websites offering illegal copies of films, TV shows or software.
Greg Frazier, executive vice president and chief policy officer of the Motion Picture Association of America, called the new trade agreement, “an important step forward in strengthening international cooperation and enforcement for intellectual property rights.
“It is also an important signal that the world’s largest economies recognize the critical value of intellectual property rights to their global competitiveness and are committed to moving ahead together to protect the jobs of the millions of men and women working in film and other creative industries.”
Added the Recording Industry Association of America Neil Turkewitz, executive vice president of international, in a statement: “While ACTA does not provide all of the answers about how governments will move forward to tackle online piracy, it is a very important multilateral statement concerning the importance of finding solutions to online theft."
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk in a statement said the text “should send a strong message to pirates and counterfeiters that they have no place in the channels of legitimate trade.”
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also praised the agreement.
Consumer groups who had criticized the behind the scenes negotiations as “deeply flawed” said that the final version is somewhat better than they first feared.
“The final text should be seen as a qualified victory for those who want to protect the digital rights of consumers around the world,” said Gigi B. Sohn, president and co-founder of Public Knowledge. “Some of the most egregious provisions from earlier drafts have been removed.”
She continued to question the process that was used to reach the agreement, a process that at first excluded representatives of consumer groups.