Lies, damned lies and ACTA


Last Updated on 2022-07-08 by Joop Beris

In a response to the day of international protests against ACTA, Dutch NOS news asked the Dutch negotiator on ACTA, Minister Maxime Verhagen, for a response. In his response Minister Verhagen mentions that he doesn’t understand the commotion and that ACTA is actually good, since it enables us to take a child pornography sites offline, for instance. ACTA is mainly of importance for “other countries”, not The Netherlands according to the Minister. For The Netherlands nothing would change, he added.

Child pornography is of course the current buzzword being used to hurry undemocratic proposals through parliaments. How could anyone not support a treaty that helps combat child pornography?

However, ACTA is not about child pornography at all and our Minister should know this (and personally, I think he does know this). ACTA stands for “Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement“. That is a very broad definition and covers everything from illegal films and music but also medication, clothing and pretty much everything else you can think of. Child pornography is not a commodity, not something countries (legally) trade in. No producer of child pornography will go to the police to complain that somebody illegally copied his material. Child pornography is already illegal and there are no problems taking down a site hosting it. And don’t we already have a blacklist of such sites anyway, Minister Verhagen? A blacklist that is not public, where the Dutch police can add and remove sites without clear process and without accountability to for instance Parliament?

If ACTA really didn’t matter that much to fundamental rights such as freedom of speech, why would the EU rapporteur on ACTA, Kader Arif, quit his role, stating, and I quote:

This agreement might have major consequences on citizens’ lives, and still, everything is being done to prevent the European Parliament from having its say in this matter. That is why today, as I release this report for which I was in charge, I want to send a strong signal and alert the public opinion about this unacceptable situation. I will not take part in this masquerade.

For Kader Arif’s full statement, please see here. An English translation is available here. An interview of Kader Arif in the Guardian may be read here.

As you may know, our own national parliament was denied access to the full ACTA documentation by Minister Verhagen. This denial followed after US pressure to keep the ACTA documentation secret. The United States claims that the negotiations around ACTA are a matter of national security. More information here, in an article in the Huffington Post. Only cleared advisors have access to all negotiations surrounding ACTA. Who are these cleared advisors? They are the members of these 27 USTR advisory boards. People on these boards include representatives of the following organisations and corporations:

  • The Gorlin Group
  • Time Warner
  • Merck & Co
  • Entertainment Software Association
  • CropLife America
  • Monsanto Company
  • Recording Industry Association of America
  • IBM Corporation
  • Intellectual Property Owners Association
  • Motion Picture Association of America
  • Association of American Publishers
  • General Motors Corporation
  • Generic Pharmaceutical Association
  • Abbott Laboratories
  • DuPont
  • Johnson & Johnson
  • FMC Corporation
  • The Dow Chemical Company
  • Pfizer
  • eBay
  • Oracle Corporation
  • Sun Microsystems
  • The Procter & Gamble Company
  • Verizon Communications
  • Intel Corporation
  • Independent Film & Television Alliance

Does this look like a list of corporations/organisations who would be particularly interested in combating child pornography? Or does this look like a list of corporations/organisations who would stand to benefit if Draconian anti-counterfeiting agreements are passed, forcing signing countries to update their laws to match the ACTA stipulations?

In addition to all of this, Rick Falkvinge reports on his blog that new documents (1, 2) emerged from the European Commission that outline post-ACTA repression. These documents, once translated from the legalese, sound like something thought up in a totalitarian regime, not a free and liberal society that most people believe we still have. Some examples form the article include this:

Fast-track, low-cost civil procedures: Civil procedures means “lawsuits against ordinary people”. Fast-track means “without delays caused by due process of law and exercising of rights”. Low-cost means “preferably in bulk”.

Including…: Granting of injunctions means “cutting of net access before a trial takes place, one way or the other”. Award of damages, well, we know about that one all too well. Use of corrective measures can be many things, but specifically includes destroying goods used for infringement.

Ah, so we’re talking about censoring entire websites as well. The roadmap referred is appropriately named “Notice and Takedown”.

I’ll stop now because I believe you will have gotten the idea.

So, after all of the above, I’d like to ask Minister Verhagen some questions:

  1. If, as you say, nothing will change for Dutch citizens or for The Netherlands in general post-ACTA, why should we bother signing it? Obviously, it would be a useless exercise if that were true.
  2. Can you explain how a trade agreement is going to help combat child pornography? Surely a treaty of international police cooperation would be immensely more useful in this regard?
  3. Can you explain why Kader Arif quit his post, calling ACTA a masquerade of which he wanted no part? Surely, a man in his position would be aware how useful ACTA would be, fighting child pornography?
  4. Can you explain why organisations such as Amnesty International call ACTA “Pandora’s box” and urge the EU not to sign it? Or are they simply misinformed?
  5. Can you explain why international organisations such as the WTO, WIPO and the UN were left out of the negotiations while major corporations and private interest groups are privy to details that not even our national parliament has had access to?
  6. Can you explain why a trade agreement is classified as a matter of national security by the US?
  7. Minister Verhagen, how stupid do you think we are?
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