In recent weeks, Congress has at least temporarily dropped efforts at preparing a law to address intellectual property (IP) and trade piracy: the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) have been dropped in response to widespread online protests.
That isn’t to say that IP piracy isn’t a serious problem: it is. But SOPA and PIPA were the wrong way of dealing with it. Essentially they gave the government the power to subvert the normal operation of the Internet by making Web sites unavailable, to require Internet service providers (ISPs) to support such efforts, and the ability to do so without due process.
Now we find out that, a few months ago, the President signed the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), that supposedly requires all these things. It requires ISPs to be the copyright police, interferes with efforts to import generic drugs, and all other manner of evil.
I’ve read the actual ACTA, as it was agreed to by various countries of the world, twice. (It’s not terribly long: about 30 pages.) I didn’t find any reference to ISPs having to be the police, or of any of the other evils that I had read about. All it says is that member countries shall have laws in place to deal with trade and IP piracy. The requirements for these laws are eerily similar to current US law.
Earlier versions had more troublesome requirements, but they didn’t make it into the final version. Our leadership may go and enact more Draconian restrictions, but they could do that anyway.
So, yes, Internet freedom is under attack, as a long-term trend. SOPA and PIPA may return in some form later this year, and there may be future versions of ACTA that will require ISPs to function as police.
But the current ACTA, not so much.