Secrecy breeds suspicion, and little in the intellectual property area has garnered more suspicion than ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement.
ACTA is a multilateral trade agreement that has been under negotiation since 2007. But the negotiations haven’t been public, and access to key documents has only been provided to people willing to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
It is inconsistent with the U.S. public’s expectations to have government officials negotiate public policies without providing public access to the deliberations and the documents. There are some limitations and exceptions to this principle. Generic diplomatic relations probably develop best in an environment where candor can prevail. Issues related to national security may require secret negotiations. But intellectual property issues affect all Americans’ communications, commerce, entertainment, expression, access to knowledge, medical care, privacy, and more.
The good news is that a text of the current draft agreement has now been released. According to James Love of Knowledge Ecology International, ACTA “goes way beyond counterfeiting and copyright piracy, into several categories of intellectual property rights, including patents, semi conductor chip designs, pharmaceutical test data and other topics.”
Public debate on ACTA can now begin, but it begins with doubts surrounding it, doubts that were sown by the non-public process in which ACTA has developed so far.