Press Release

Groups Protest Obama Administration Secrecy on ‘Trade Agreement’

November 5, 2009 , , ,

Sixteen library, consumer, creator, and civil liberties organizations
today told the Obama Administration of their “deep concerns about
the lack of transparency and openness” surrounding the negotiation
of an international trade agreement that has the potential to rewrite
U.S. copyright law.

The letter comes as talks were held this week in Seoul, South Korea, on
the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). The U.S. Trade
Representative has repeatedly declined to make public the draft text of
the agreement, and has “actively resisted disclosure of relevant
information during the course of litigation under the Freedom of
Information Act.” The Administration’s secrecy conflicts with
President Obama’s promise of “a more transparent,
collaborative and participatory government,” the groups said.

A main problem, the groups said in a letter to President Obama and
high-ranking Administration officials, is that ACTA is not a traditional
trade agreement as much as it is a treaty dealing with intellectual
property: “Much of ACTA’s transparency deficit stems from the
disconnect between ACTA’s apparent aims and its formulation as a
trade agreement. In negotiating agreements focusing on traditional trade
matters such as tariffs and trade barriers, confidentiality regarding
some negotiating positions may be appropriate. But ACTA aims to set
international legal norms, potentially driving changes to substantive
intellectual property legal regimes on an international basis. Attempts
to force a multilateral intellectual property agreement through trade
processes unsuited for it does a disservice to citizens, public policy,
and the USTR alike.”

“As an instrument affecting multiple nations’ laws and
policy, ACTA should be negotiated in public, as has been done routinely
with international intellectual property agreements in the World
Intellectual Property Organization and the World Trade
Organization,” the groups said.

As a substantive matter, the groups said the information which is known
about the treaty negotiations shows that the terms are heavily weighted
in favor of big media companies: “With respect to ACTA’s
substance, we remain concerned that the terms may not adequately account
for all of the interests that would be affected. Intellectual property
law requires a balance between the benefits conferred upon creators and
the rights of the general public to access and use those creations in
free discourse and for the public good. Yet the public and the industries
enabling such uses would face crippling liability under an improperly
calibrated intellectual property regime. ACTA could increase the risk of
participating governments taking an imbalanced approach.”

The full text of the letter is here.

Information on the current negotiations is available in a number of
sites, including that of Professor Michael
Geist
and the
Electronic Frontier Foundation
.