By Charlie Angus
Your Internet access could be revoked without conviction or any chance to appeal, just for watching your favourite TV show on-line. Those are the rules under a new, secretly negotiated international copyright agreement the Conservative government plans to sign.
The ongoing negotiations on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement could have profound implications for the development of digital culture in Canada. And yet, despite the fact that this treaty would criminalize the behaviour of thousands of citizens, few Canadians have ever heard of ACTA.
Until the Tories were confronted last week in the House of Commons, they hadn’t even admitted that they were a party to these secret negotiations. The silence is staggering given the fact that the treaty would treat the occasional downloader as though they were a criminal bootlegger. Under the notorious “three strikes and you’re out” provision, ACTA would strip them of the right to even have an Internet account.
If you’re wondering how this treaty could be forced through without public input, just think back to the Conservative government’s very public promise to solicit average Canadians’ views on changes to the Copyright Act.
Last summer, Industry Minister Tony Clement and Heritage Minister James Moore barnstormed the country in an attempt to convince Canadians that the Conservatives really did want to hear from citizens before drafting new copyright legislation. This sudden conversion to consultation was a direct result of the debacle over Bill C-61, the Conservatives’ previous attempt at copyright legislation.
ACTA goes way beyond C-61. As leaks emerge from the latest round of ACTA talks in South Korea, it becomes clear that the treaty is little more than a corporate wish list for the U.S. entertainment lobby. The treaty will force Canada to sign on to provisions that would be impossible to get passed through normal democratic legislative processes.
Under the treaty, Canadian laws on privacy and the standard presumption of innocence would be trumped by the right of corporations to snoop, threaten, and sue any Internet service provider or user for perceived infringements.
ACTA would enshrine absolute legal protection for digital locks even if these locks were used to maintain anti-competitive practices or to override existing rights that citizens normally enjoy, in terms of fair access for copyrighted works. Citizens who do nothing more than break the lock on their iPhone or back up protected DVDs would be treated like criminal bootleggers.
By far the most contentious element of the treaty is setting the stage for a “three strikes and you’re out” provision. This means that any Internet user who is called out for three supposed infringements of corporate copyright policy would be denied access to Internet accounts, a cruel punishment in the information age.
Such moves would go well beyond present copyright law and present serious implications for Canadian privacy and civic rights. So why is the government engaged in closed door negotiations that would essentially rob the Canadian Parliament of its right to establish new copyright rules?
Minister Clement claims that the ACTA treaty will remain subservient to Canadian legislation. Such a claim is hard to believe. But it does lead to one of two conclusions. The first is that the Conservative government’s public consultation process on copyright was a sham from the get-go, designed to divert attention while negotiators hammered out this new treaty.
The other possibility is that poor Clement was sincere in his desire to fix the debacle of Bill C-61, but that higher-ups in the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade have been moving ahead with ACTA regardless.
Either way, the Tories have to come clean on ACTA. This treaty spells bad news for citizens, democratic rights, and the development of an innovation agenda. Canadian citizens need to get active and fight back. As it stands now, the Conservative government appears ready to sell us down the digital river to appease the U.S. corporate lobby.
Charlie Angus is the New Democratic Party’s critic for digital issues and the MP for Timmins-James Bay in Ontario.