ArtsWatch: Issa Bashes ACTA

California representative turns up the volume on popular ACTA opposition
March 12, 2012 -- 8:08 am PDT
By Philip Merrill /

In recent news ...

On March 6 Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) posted the text of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement on his website,, inviting public discussion and condemning ACTA as being conceived in secrecy, signed improperly and dangerously vague in its terms. These criticisms are bound to endear him to the popular movement against tougher copyright enforcement, which may even be their purpose. As for secrecy, draft language was regularly leaked and commented on by consumer advocates, and public draft language was officially disclosed in October 2010, a year before ACTA was signed. The argument suggesting ACTA was a treaty that should have required congressional approval was weakened as its negotiated provisions were softened in response to consumer advocates' vocal opposition — while adopting ACTA would require new commitments for many other countries, it doesn't appreciably toughen antipiracy for the United States and, more or less, exports the U.S. system internationally. As for dangerous vagueness, lawmakers use this argument to persuade against regulatory action itself, suggesting that courts cannot be trusted to adjudicate general terms without causing substantial unintended damage. These complaints are a far cry from much-needed suggestions for how the United States — which has among the toughest anti-infringement laws and enforcement in the world — can improve its protection of intellectual property without harming speech or innovation. Issa launched the website on which he posted ACTA last December, accompanying his introduction of the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act legislation that critics charged "goes easy on online piracy." So far the popular spirit against tougher antipiracy legislation looks likely to stall progress past November's elections, and ACTA bashing helps achieve such delay, further preserving a status quo that benefits many Internet companies and criminal enterprises but harms creative professionals' efforts to make a living.

Members of European Parliament's Committee for International Trade discussed ACTA on Feb. 29 and March 1, with an ACTA workshop held the second day. The committee is expected to recommend that Parliament join the European Commission in referring ACTA to the European Court of Justice but should add questions of its own. Parliament member David Martin said, "What I plan to do is bring about clarity on ACTA in the next year to provide the facts for this Parliament to vote." Addressing the workshop, EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht described ACTA as exporting European levels of enforcement without harming legal safeguards and said the ECJ's "ruling should help support a calm, reasoned, open, and democratic discussion on ACTA — a discussion we sorely need to have." On Feb. 28 a petition organized on consumer activism website Avaaz was delivered to European Parliament consisting of 2.4 million signatures against ACTA. It would be cynical to suggest that the goal of delay has been achieved, but all this clarity is bound to take considerable time. On the bright side, all the passion young people have brought to demand that politicians protect the free and open Internet could pay off as engaged citizens inevitably consider the consequences of ongoing widespread content piracy.

On March 6 the United Kingdom's Court of Appeal ruled against the majority of Internet service providers BT and TalkTalk's grounds for appeal of their April 2011 High Court loss — contesting Britain's Digital Economy Act that was passed in April 2010. The law's provisions for notification of consumer infringers have been on hold because of the pending case. The ISPs were granted an appeal to argue for a change in one of several provisions related to sharing the costs of enforcement. Other than that, the ISPs' grounds for appeal — in Britain — are exhausted, less than two years after the law passed. The appeals court judge agreed with the High Court judge that the application of European law was clear-cut, but the ISPs are likely looking for grounds to kick the dispute up to the European Court of Justice.

Approximately 900 French writers signed a petition protesting their government's surreptitious passage of a law subsidizing digitization and publication of out-of-print 20th century books in conjunction with the Bibliothèque nationale. Similar to the Authors Guild's continuing efforts to control Google Books, the sticking point is that authors were given a chance to opt out but the traditional copyright-law approach requires that authors be given the chance to opt in.

Two sets of broadcaster plaintiffs have filed separate cases in the Southern District of New York's U.S. District Court to prevent Aereo's March 14 planned launch of its recently announced Internet television service. Observers believe Aereo investor and longtime media executive Barry Diller must have anticipated the lawsuit and wonder what legal defense is in store to avoid the seemingly inevitable shutdown, the fate that befell innovative services Ivi and Zediva last year.

Speaking of interesting defenses, on March 2 two British defendants accused by Sony Music Entertainment of hacking unreleased Michael Jackson tracks last year pleaded not guilty in Leicester Crown Court. Their attorney said both men "are eager to point out to Michael Jackson's fans and family that they would never do anything to harm the legacy that is Michael Jackson's music." The hack reportedly occurred last April while Sony was coping with high-profile penetration of its Playstation network. The haul of unreleased Michael Jackson songs has been estimated to exceed 50,000 tracks. A trial is scheduled for January.

The Recording Academy actively represents the music community on such issues as intellectual property rights, music piracy, archiving and preservation, and censorship concerns. In pursuing its commitment to addressing these and other issues, The Recording Academy undertakes a variety of national initiatives. ArtsWatch is a key part of an agenda aimed at raising public awareness of and support for the rights of artists. To become more involved, visit Advocacy Action @ and sign up for Advocacy Action E-lerts.

Click on the "ArtsWatch" tag for links to other GRAMMY News stories in this series.

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