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USA and Canada take steps to ratify intellectual property agreement

(EFF/IFEX) - Major announcements from the US and Canada today [1 March 2013] give a clear indication that the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is coming back with a vengeance. ACTA is an agreement negotiated and signed by 11 countries, carrying intellectual property (IP) provisions that would negatively impact digital rights and innovation by ratcheting up IP enforcement measures beyond existing international standards. It will not take effect until six countries ratify the agreement, and Japan is so far the only country to have done so.

The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) posted its 2013 Trade Policy Agenda and 2012 Trade Policy Report, which covers all of its ongoing negotiations over trade agreements. It reports that the US is working with Japan and other negotiating parties “to ensure that ACTA can come into force as soon as possible,” and encourages Canada “to meet its [ACTA] obligations.”

Canada did not miss a beat to satisfy this demand. The Canadian government introduced a bill today to make Canada compliant with provisions of ACTA, paving the way for its eventual ratification. Among the provisions outlined within the 52-page bill are increased criminalization of copyright and trademark law as well as a new authority for Canadian customs officials to seize and destroy goods they can determine to be “counterfeit or pirated goods” without any judicial oversight.

As we've seen in the US, this power has often been abused. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have seized domain names for allegedly hosting infringing content without a court ruling. Extrajudicial takedowns of websites violate our rights to free expression by presupposing guilt and enacting punishment where legitimate content and speech is suppressed. Overall, this new bill is a glaring indication of how willing Canada is to cave to US pressure on intellectual property enforcement.

The USTR's apparent renewed confidence in ACTA is deeply concerning, especially in light of its ambitious goal to conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) by the fall of this year. The TPP and ACTA are two of the USTR's main avenues for writing stronger IP enforcement into international law at the behest of Hollywood and other content industry interests.

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