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Coming soon: an official public draft of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement

April 16, 2010 |  5:28 pm

The countries negotiating a new Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement haven't settled all their differences yet, but they're close enough to release their first draft text, the U.S. Trade Representative's office announced Friday. Judging by the near hysteria the secret talks in Wellington, New Zealand, have provoked, the draft is sure to be one of the hottest documents in Washington when it's released April 21.

The negotiators decided to put out the draft because they thought it would "help the process of reaching a final agreement," the U.S. Trade Representative's office said. Unofficial translation: Leaks and speculation about the agreement have generated so much heat on the negotiators, they've decided to pull back the curtain on the talks. But not all the way; according to the USTR, "in agreeing to release publicly this draft text in the particular circumstances of this negotiation, participants reaffirmed the importance of maintaining the confidentiality of their respective positions in trade negotiations."

The trade representative also sought to rebut some of the most frequently cited concerns about the pact's effect on travelers:

There is no proposal to oblige ACTA participants to require border authorities to search travellers’ baggage or their personal electronic devices for infringing materials. In addition, ACTA will not address the cross-border transit of legitimate generic medicines.

That's another way of saying, "Relax. Customs officers won't be searching iPods for illegal downloads or stopping Granny from bringing cheaper meds home from Canada." The USTR also sought to rebut accusations that the agreement was a back-door effort to force U.S. Internet service providers to help combat piracy:

While the participants recognise the importance of responding effectively to the challenge of Internet piracy, they confirmed that no participant is proposing to require governments to mandate a ‘graduated response’ or ‘three strikes’ approach to copyright infringement on the Internet.

More generally, the USTR pledged that "ACTA will not interfere with a signatory’s ability to respect its citizens’ fundamental rights and liberties." That suggests it won't alter the fair-use or personal-copying regimes in the U.S. and Europe, respectively. But then, perhaps the negotiators don't view those rights and liberties as "fundamental." We'll see soon enough.

In a separate statement about the talks, USTR spokeswoman Nefeterius McPherson tipped this country's hand ever so slightly. "While the United States is pleased with the progress made in Wellington this week, more progress is needed, particularly in confirming the focus of key provisions of the agreement on enforcement measures against trademark counterfeiting and copyright piracy.... The United States continues to oppose extending provisions on criminal and border enforcement against trademark counterfeiting and copyright piracy to cover patents or other forms of intellectual property.” 

-- Jon Healey

Healey writes editorials for The Times' Opinion Manufacturing Division. Follow him on Twitter: @jcahealey

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