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As ACTA talks resume, new leak confirms fears about threat to online free expression

(RSF/IFEX) - As 40 or so countries begin a new round of talks about the proposed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) in the Swiss city of Lucerne on 28 June 2010, Reporters Without Borders urges the negotiators not to sacrifice Internet free speech and access to online information to the desire to combat piracy and the counterfeiting of copyrighted works.

The press freedom organisation also calls for the negotiations to be opened up to permit a democratic debate, since so much is at stake for civil liberties.

When the European Commission released a draft of the ACTA on 21 April, Reporters Without Borders drew attention to the threats that several of its provisions posed to online free expression, including the possibility of Internet users being disconnected, the lack of protection for personal information and the intention to turn ISPs and other technical intermediaries into "copyright policemen" who would probably introduce Internet filtering systems.

These fears have been reinforced by the leak of a document from the office of the president of the European Council dated 7 April that has been posted on the website of La Quadrature du Net, a citizen's collective ( ).

The document shows that member states are pushing for even non-commercial online copyright infringement to be punishable by imprisonment. This would include private copies, which are legal in several countries. Imprisonment would also apply in cases of "complicity" and "incitement," extremely vague concepts that could be interpreted very broadly in certain countries with grave potential consequences for free expression.

La Quadrature du Net spokesman Jérémie Zimmermann said these were such broad concepts that they could cover almost any Internet services or comments that call copyright policies into question.

The ACTA is intended to cover many forms of counterfeiting, including the counterfeiting of pharmaceutical drugs. But section 4 concerns online copyright infringement, including illegal downloading.

The negotiations have been conducted confidentially for more than two years between the European Union, United States, Australia, New Zealand, Morocco, Mexico, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Canada and Switzerland without any consultation with NGOs and civil society representatives.

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