Revised Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement Satisfies Digital-Rights Advocates

A new version of a proposed anti-counterfeiting treaty no longer contains some of the Web-related provisions that had alarmed a broad coalition of watchdogs.

The latest draft of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, unveiled this week, does not require Internet service providers to implement "three strikes" policies that would disconnect users who allegedly share pirated files. Originally, the U.S. had attempted to impose this requirement on ISPs, according to Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa in Canada.

U.S. representatives also originally wanted the treaty to include mandatory penalties for circumventing digital rights management technology. But the latest version of the bill instead uses a more watered-down standard, requiring only "adequate legal protection and effective legal remedies" against unlocking DRM.

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During the negotiations, groups like the Motion Picture Association of America publicly called for the treaty to require ISPs to monitor users' communications, disclose information about subscribers, and implement three-strikes policies. Digital rights advocates had opposed those proposals.

Last year, a coalition of nine organizations including Public Knowledge, American Association of Law Libraries, Computer & Communications Industry Association and Electronic Frontier Foundation, said in a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk that all treaty provisions related to the Web should be removed.

Gigi Sohn, president and co-founder of Public Knowledge, called the most recent version of the bill a "qualified victory" for digital rights advocates. "Some of the most egregious provisions from earlier drafts have been removed on topics ranging from digital protection measures to the liability of intermediaries like Internet Service Providers and search engines," she said in a statement. "The agreement would give more flexibility to the signatories than did previous versions."

But Sohn and other digital rights advocates are still critical of the secretive process that resulted in the final draft. Even though the talks, which lasted for three years, were confidential, documents about the negotiations eventually surfaced on Wikileaks.

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