[Ip-health] New Internationalist: ACTA: undemocratic, dangerous and wrong

Joanna Keenan-Siciliano joanna.l.keenan at gmail.com
Tue Jan 24 05:10:18 PST 2012

New Internationalist: ACTA: undemocratic, dangerous and wrong
By Charlie Harvey | 0

If, as Mark Getty famously claimed, ‘Intellectual Property is the oil of
the 21st century’, then the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) has
something of the character of a covert black-op in that war. A covert
black-op which will benefit corporate power. The whole thing has been
negotiated in secret between rich countries in a policy-laundering scheme
designed to avoid the meddlesome interference of democratic debate,
transparency or dissent.

Like the recently defeated SOPA/PIPA legislation in the US, ACTA will
introduce de facto censorship of the internet, but ACTA goes one step
further and introduces dangerous provisions that can be used by
multinationals to restrict access to generic medicines to people in the
Global South.

Lobbyists for big pharma have added their own clauses into the agreement
that require customs officials to treat generic medicines as if they were
counterfeit goods and seize them.

‘Negotiating countries are cynically using legitimate fears of counterfeit
medicines to exert greater control over the trade in generic medicines to
poor countries,’ says Oxfam spokesperson Rohit Malpani. ‘ACTA is proposing
a new, expanded framework of intellectual property protections on behalf of
multinational drug companies which will be combined with border measures to
stifle the trade in legitimate generic medicines. This will mean that poor
people will be denied legitimate and life-saving generic medicines.’

The obfuscatory tactic of intentionally confusing one thing with another is
nothing new on behalf of the multinationals. In fact the whole notion of
intellectual property is deeply problematic, confusing as it does the three
very different phenomena of copyright, patents and trademarks. Throwing
counterfeiting into the mix bamboozles even more. Now, it suddenly becomes
possible to talk about countries trying to save lives as if they were some
geezer selling knock-off Rolexes down the market. Or to speak of people who
share ideas, computer code or music as ‘pirates’.

The WHO estimates that 1.3 to 2.1 billion of the poorest people in the
world do not have access to essential medicines. There is something deeply
wrong in a society that values the profits of a global corporation more
highly than securing that access. At least 20 legitimate shipments of
life-saving generic medicines have already been seized under a similar EU
regulation. ACTA will formalize and extend that power. It’s not clear that
it will do anything to prevent the circulation of fake medicines.

‘We are in danger of ending up with the worst of both worlds,’ says
Michelle Childs of Médecins Sans Frontières. ‘Pushing IP rules, which are
very effective at stopping access to life-saving drugs but are very bad at
stopping or preventing fake drugs.’

ACTA’s censorship provisions are also extremely troubling. Like SOPA/PIPA
they introduce virtual fiefdoms for copyright holders, encouraging a
chilling effect on freedom of expression online.

‘The ACTA enforcement regime imposes a nineteenth century view of
intellectual property (IP) that fails to acknowledge the changed
relationship between individuals and information in the modern electronic
age,’ say Article 19. ‘Consequently, the IP interests of corporations are
disproportionately protected at the expense of individuals’ rights to
freedom of expression and information.’

Perhaps the most controversial aspects of ACTA are its intentional
avoidence of the usual norms of democratic accountability and introducing a
parallel legislative process. As Adam Ma’anit noted in issue 435 of New
Internationalist magazine: ‘ACTA is being negotiated in secret between
supposedly democratic entities … while some cursory information has been
released, there is still concern over the substance of the negotiations and
the lack of public debate and scrutiny over some of its more odious
details.’ The process has consistently excluded civil society groups, and
even parliamentary discussion.

The EU Parliament development committee is scheduled to hold its first
debate about the shadowy legislation today (24 January 2012). Their report,
written by Jan Zahradil, a conservative, euro-sceptic from the Czech
Republic, is a masterpiece of one-sidedness, failing to mention the
extensive criticism that has been made of the legislation, or the frankly
scandalous way in which legislators have circumvented the usual checks and
balances of the democratic process. There is a much fuller analysis of the
agreement over on La Quadrature Du Net’s wiki. We all need to stop ACTA
before it’s too late.

Joanna Keenan
Press Officer
Médecins Sans Frontières - Access Campaign
E: joanna.keenan[at]geneva.msf.org
T: @joanna_keenan


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